8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Cleveland -11, Over/Under: 199
After a lopsided first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, things finally tightened up in Game Four, as the Toronto Raptors forced a pivotal Game 5 in Cleveland, as they appear to have the Cavaliers on the ropes. after getting outscored by a ludicrous fifty points in Games 1 and 2, the Raptors (56-26, Atlantic Division) bounced back with a few haymakers of their own. It started on Saturday Night, when they hammered the reigning Eastern Conference Champions to the tune of 99-84. It looked to be more of the same on Monday Night, as the hosts caught fire early, jumping out to a 13-5 lead, as they relegated Cleveland to missing eight out of their first ten attempts from the field. But enough about defense, for the Atlantic Division Champions finally started to hit on all cylinders on the offensive end of the floor. Toronto shot a sizzling 53.8% from the floor, all the while punishing the Cavs in the paint, scoring forty-four points. And for the first time in pretty much this entire postseason, both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan found their shooting stroke at the same time. Dwayne Casey’s dynamic duo accounted for a whopping sixty-seven points on 24-of-43 shooting from the field (55.8%). While the latter tormented Cleveland in the midrange area, Lowry bombed away from beyond the arc with startling precision, finally showing why he was in the mix for the MVP Trophy during the Regular Season. The Point Guard’s game-high thirty-five points came on 14-of-20 shooting (70.0%), including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc (57.1%), along with five rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Keep in mind that this was the same guy that had shot south of 30.0% in each of the previous two rounds of the postseason, and even departed Game 2 early at Halftime because he was so disgusted with his play. But honestly, this unexpected comeback wouldn’t have been possible without the exploits of one Bismack Biyombo. Who? That’s right, the one-time draft bust has emerged into a defensive stalwart even invoking the trademark finger-wag of Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo. After amassing a franchise record twenty-six rebounds in Game Three, Biyombo had to settle for just fourteen boards to go along with three blocks, while deterring away what must have seemed like a dozen others. It became evident that his teammates began to feed off of his defensive energy, as they absolutely took the Cavs to task Monday Night. Now the series is tied at two games apiece, and reinforcements are on the way, as starting Center Jonas Valanciunas, who has missed this entire series nursing a sprained ankle is expected to make his return tonight, giving Toronto even more muscle and beef around the rim. Don’t look know, folks, but business just picked up.
Meanwhile, what a difference a week makes in the world of sports. Seven days ago, the Cavaliers (57-25, 1st in Central Division) were the toast of the league, sweeping through the first two round of the Playoffs with relative ease, while embarrassing the Raptors in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. This extended an in-conference winning streak to a record-breaking sixteen games, while Head Coach Tyronn Lue became the first skipper to win his first ten postseason games in his first foray voyage into the Playoffs. Hell, Cleveland was practically penciled into the NBA Finals for a second consecutive season, with no eraser required. It was a done deal. Then they traveled north of the border, and got housed in Games 3 and 4 at Air Canada Centre. Basically, everything they did will in Games 1 and 2, betrayed them, leaving them in quite a precarious position heading into tonight’s pivotal Game 5. However, despite trailing by sixteen points at Halftime, the visiting side managed to claw their way back into the game, even taking a two-point lead with just under four minutes left to play. There would be no magical finish though, as they proceeded to go ice cold down the stretch, as the hosts outscored them 16-7 at the 6:03 mark in the final stanza. Though they shot a solid 47.0% from the field, the continued to struggle from the three-point arc, knocking down just 13-of-41 attempts (31.6%). Remember, this was the same team that absolutely torched the Hawks in the Conference Semifinals, raining down a ridiculous seventy-seven threes in only four games, including a league-record twenty-five in Game Two alone. The fact that Cleveland took so many three-pointers despite finding such success in driving to the rim in Games 1 and 2 is a bit perplexing. After all, if it’s not broke, why fix it? Yet that was the case Monday Night, as Toronto slowed the pace of the game to a crawl, with a scant nine combined Fast Break Points between the two sides. So with the game being played primarily in the half court set, one would expect Cleveland to dominate like they’ve done on so many occasions in this series, but again, that simply wasn’t the case on Monday Night; Toronto outscored the visitors 44-36 in the painted area. And as a byproduct of Lue’s charges propensity to jack up wanton three-pointers, the Cavs only got the Charity Stripe to shoot a meager nine free-throws. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving carried the load, accounting for fifty-five points on a combined 22-of-37 shooting from the field (59.5%), including 4-of-11 from downtown (36.4%), along with twelve rebounds, twelve assists, and three steals. However, after taking a 92-89 lead late in the Fourth Quarter, the four-time MVP failed to even register another shot attempt. The supporting cast was a virtual no-show as well, with only Channing Frye managing to score over ten points. Now there is the prospect that Kevin Love may not be in action tonight, as the versatile Power Forward is nursing an ailing left ankle. With that said, the big man was largely ineffective, posting just ten points on 4-of-14 shooting from the floor (28.6%), including 2-of-7 (28.6%). This came off the heels of a 3-of-19 performance in Game 3, which should sound a few alarms for a team that looked practically unbeatable for a stretch of ten games.