Game 1 is Tuesday in Cleveland (5:30 p.m. PS.T.ESPN).
Here are five things to watch in the best-for-7 series:
Cleveland is the postseason’s best three-point shooting team, and Toronto needs to limit those attempts and makes. Or it will be a short series. The Cavaliers have made 16.8 threes per game, attempted 36.3 per game and have made 46.2% – all playoff-bests – and they set a playoff record for threes in a game (25) and in a four-game series (77) against Atlanta.
The Cavs have so many scorers the defense is scrambling to keep up with shooters at the three-point line. From that distance, J.R. Smith has made 50.8%, Channing Frye 57.1%, Kyrie Irving 53.8%, Kevin Love 44.4% and Iman Shumpert 46.2%.
“We’ve got to choose – pick our poison,” Casey said. “They’re a lethal team right now. They can put a team on the floor one through five that can stretch you out and shoot the three. Our work is cut out for us to take away the three ball.”
The game within the game for the Raptors: limiting Cleveland’s transition threes and keeping Cleveland’s paint touches from turning into open threes.
Casey hopes he doesn’t need to call poison control often in the series.
Toronto’s All-Star backcourt
Lowry and DeRozan were fantastic against the Heat in Game 7. But their playoffs have been marked by offensive struggles – neither are shooting better than 37% from the field in 14 games. The Raptors not only need the kind of scoring they got from Lowry and DeRozan in Game 7 against the Heat (35 and 28 points), they need efficient offense from their two All-Stars.
“Hopefully, they can keep that momentum going on the offensive end and don’t forget about the defensive end,” Casey said.
Cleveland’s offense has been so good, it’s easy to overlook some of its defensive shortcomings in the playoffs. Toronto will try to take advantage and give Cleveland’s backcourt its biggest defensive challenge of the playoffs.
Cleveland’s Big Three
It was expected that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would reincarnate immediately what James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had in Miami. Well, that takes time, but that time is here now. Irving is averaging 24.4 points and 5.5 assists; LeBron 23.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and Love 18.9 points and 12.5 rebounds (a double-double in every playoff game).
It’s the best they’ve played since they got together in Cleveland, and when they are making shots inside or out, it stresses the defense and creates opportunities for Smith, Frye, Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson.
Lue has also found rotations with two of those three or even just one of the three on the court, allowing each to have the offensive spotlight at different times.
Go back to the 2011 Finals when Dallas beat Miami, and the Mavericks limited James. Casey was the defensive mastermind for the Mavs as an assistant for Rick Carlisle. He parlayed that into this Raptors job that offseason.
Casey has another outstanding defensive mind on his bench in assistant Andy Greer, and those two will try to find ways to cut off some of James’ opportunities. With Atlanta last season and now with the Raptors, forward DeMarre Carroll will guard James and he will need help.
“The respect that we have for him and the respect I know I have for him and our staff has for him is unprecedented,” Casey said.
At the start of the playoffs, it wasn’t a dig at Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to wonder who he would outcoach in the playoffs with Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy in the first round, Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer in the second round and now Casey.
With just 41 regular-season games and eight playoff games on his head-coaching resume, Lue squashed that concern.
His in-game management has been fantastic, finding the right lineups, running effective out-of-bounds plays and calling timeouts at the perfect time.
More than that, he deserves credit for getting the Cavs to trust one another and play a style that is conducive to playoff success.
“When we’re at our best is when the ball’s moving (and) when we’re playing with pace,” Lue said. “The guys finally bought into it and understand if we play that way, it’s fun for everyone to play that way. Also, when we play great offense our defense picks up. It was the team’s focus to play this way. Now we’re here and now they trust it.”