Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
CLEVELAND – The Toronto Raptors took the Cleveland Cavaliers to the sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals last spring and get another crack at the defending champs one round earlier this spring. The second-seeded Cavaliers, who host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday, breezed to a four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the first round while the third-seeded Raptors needed six to turn away the Milwaukee Bucks.”They’re still the champs,” Toronto shooting guard DeMar DeRozan told reporters of Cleveland.
“Doesn’t matter what seed you are. Once you are in the playoffs, they are still defending something they won last year. You still have to give them all the respect in the world, but it’s on us Game 1 to start something new and start chipping away at it.” The Raptors developed a stronger defensive identity with the acquisitions of P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka during the regular season and limited the Bucks to an average of 86 points while winning the final three games of the first-round series. The Cavaliers are not as strong on the defensive end and became the first team since the 1995 Houston Rockets to sweep a first-round series while allowing their opponent to score 100 or more points in each game, but coach Tyronn Lue saw progress throughout the series. “Defensively, I thought we took a step forward,” Lue told reporters. “And that’s all I wanted to see. I know we can score the basketball. Getting the stops is most important. All these games came down to the wire and when we needed to get stops, we got stops.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT THE RAPTORS: The additions of Ibaka and Tucker give Toronto better defensive options against LeBron James and Kevin Love this time around, and the two made their presence felt in the last series. “We had to go out and really fight and get our hands dirty, which in the past hasn’t been one of the things you would say about the Raptors,” Tucker told the Toronto Star. “But we had to do that to beat Milwaukee. We had to really go out there and fight and grind it out, and I think we’re going to have to take pieces of that series into this one.” The Raptors could use more on the offensive end from point guard Kyle Lowry, who was held to an average of 14.3 points in the first round after posting 22.4 in the regular season.
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS: James, 32, is logging more minutes than ever and averaged 43.8 in the first round. The superstar, who got eight days off to rest after the first-round sweep, averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and nine assists against the Pacers. “For me, I just go out and try to win every game and do whatever it takes to help our team be successful,” James told reporters. “(We are) going to a hostile building in Game 3 and Game 4 (at the Air Canada Centre), and we know that. Their fans are unbelievable. I stated that last year after we closed that series out. Doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to win this year. We’ve got to go out and make it happen. We have to worry about Game 1 first.”
1. Love went 6-of-25 from the floor in the final two games of the first round after going 11-of-16 in the first two.
2. Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas came off the bench in the final three games against the Bucks but figures to return to the starting lineup.
3. Toronto is 1-11 in Game 1’s in franchise history.