(Toronto, On) Well, this is a tough pill to swallow for Toronto Raptors fans.
The cards were all set for the Raptors to win this game. The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, were coming off a tough seven game series against the Indiana Pacers while Toronto had three days of rest.
But like the previous six playoff games against the Cavaliers, it ended the same way.
James finished with a triple-double (26 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists) as Cleveland stunned Toronto, 113-112, in overtime – a game in which the Cavs trailed throughout regulation. Kyle Korver’s triple with 4:23 to go in overtime gave the Cavaliers a lead they would not relinquish.
The seven game playoff winning streak against Toronto dates back to Game 5 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals. The top seeded team in the East led by as many as 14 in the first quarter and had a double digit lead in the early stages of the fourth.
Fred VanVleet had a chance to win the game in the extra frame with 3.4 seconds left but his three point attempt went off the rim as the Raptors lost home court advantage. They are now 2-13 in playoff series openers.
James had much needed help, however, as the maligned supporting cast from the Cavs saw four other players score in double figures.
J.R. Smith had 20 points while Kyle Korver had 19 points as both guards hit five triples each and it was also the only time a Cav other than James finished with 20 points. Jeff Green scored 16 points while Brampton, Ont., native Tristan Thompson provided a solid presence on the inside, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds off of the bench.
For the Raptors, DeMar DeRozan led the way with 22 points while Jonas Valanciunas turned in a spectacular performance with 21 points and 21 rebounds, despite going one for seven in the fourth quarter. Kyle Lowry finished with 18 points and 10 assists while Pascal Siakam was the other Raptor who scored in double figures with 11 off of the bench.
Despite the 25-15 advantage from the free throw line, a 65-59 edge on the glass, and a 50-40 edge in points in the paint from the Raptors, the game was decided from the three point line and the turnover battle. Cleveland hit five more threes (14-9) and committed just six turnovers compared to Toronto’s 14. (Cavs scored 21 points off turnovers)
On top of that, Toronto shot eight of 31 from the field, which was a dreadful 26 per cent, in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a missed three pointer from VanVleet and four tip-in attempts at the end of regulation to take the lead. The Raptors went 8:24 between made field goals during that span.
Toronto overall shot 42.9 per cent and 32.1 per cent from behind the arc.
The game could not have started any better for Toronto as they opened up a 14 point lead after one quarter. DeRozan had 11 first quarter points while Lowry had eight points and five assists as the Raptors shot 61.9 per cent from the field and hit four threes.
The defensive intensity started off high for Toronto as well, limiting the Cavs to 30.4 per cent shooting for the quarter as the home team took a 33-19 lead after one quarter.
However, Cleveland began to chip away at Toronto’s lead as they scored a playoff team high 38 points in the quarter. Smith and Green each had 11 points as the Cavs shot 14 of 22 (63.6 per cent) from the field and hit five triples in the quarter.
The Raptors, despite that, went perfect (8-8) from the free throw line as they held a slim 60-57 lead after the first half.
Korver scored 10 points in the third quarter as Cleveland kept it within arm’s reach but Toronto went into the quarter, up 87-82, after a dominant frame for Valanciunas, who had 13 points and five rebounds.
Toronto started off the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run, after a triple off of a pump fake from Delon Wright, to go up by 10 with 10:24 left. The Cavaliers began to chip away at the lead once again and cut the lead to one after a pair of free throws from Thompson with 3:16 left.
After Serge Ibaka knocked down three free throws to increase the Raptors’ lead to four, James hit consecutive shots, including a contested fadeaway over O.G Anunoby to tie the game at 105.
Cleveland had a chance to win the game in regulation after Toronto’s missed opportunities and James broke open for an uncontested fadeaway jump shot with 0.6 left but hit front iron, sending the game to overtime.
The Cavs went on an 8-2 run to open the extra frame but the Raptors scored five straight points, capped off by a three point play from Lowry with 57.9 seconds to go. However, the scoring ended there as VanVleet’s missed triple sent the fans home heartbroken.
Game 2 will be at the Air Canada Centre Thursday evening at 6:00pm as the Raptors look to even the series and avoid falling down two games to none.
Written by Kajan Thiruthanikasalam