Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors: A second-round primer

Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Previewing the potential heavyweight Eastern Conference matchup between the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched a second round matchup with the Toronto Raptors by scraping by the Indiana Pacers in a challenging Game 7.

The Cavs and Raptors have a history of recent playoff matchups and will face-off for the chance to play in the Easter Conference Finals.

Breaking down the Raptors

The Raptors finished the regular season 59-23 to secure the top-seed in the East, making it the winningest season in franchise history.

Despite its regular season success, the Raptors struggled at times in the six games it took to defeat the Washington Wizards in the first round, and questions persist regarding how serious of a threat the Raptors are.

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The regular season is relevant, but the Raptors have yet to prove it can carry regular season success into the playoffs. This second round series versus the Cavs should go a long way towards answering questions about the Raptors’ credibility.

This season the Raptors finished in the top-five in both offensive (111) and defensive rating (103.4), making Toronto the only team in the league to do so, per

The backcourt tandem of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry lead the Raptors’ offense, behind DeRozan’s 26.7 points and 4.8 assists per game, and Lowry’s 17.2 points and 8.3 assists per game.

Although the sample size is small, the Raptors posted an offensive rating of 110.2 in the first round, a sign that Toronto may be able to replicate its impressive regular season offense in the postseason.

This era of the DeRozan and Lowry-led Raptors has produced solid teams but haven’t formed a legitimate contender yet. In seasons past, the team lived and died by its two stars performances, and if either or both of them had an off night, the team suffered.

This Raptors team is different.

The Raptors reconstructed its team and now owe its winning to a combination of its all-star backcourt, overall depth, and lethal bench unit.

The Raptors rotation runs 10 players deep, including a second unit of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poetl that posted a plus-18.5 point-differential in their minutes together, according to

For the Raptors, not relying on DeRozan and Lowry was once unheard of. Now, Toronto has a bona fide bench squad to carry the workload without its two stars.

VanVleet is an essential part of that second unit and the Raptors success in general. After missing most of the first round with a shoulder injury, VanVleet is back healthy, and the Raptors are at full strength.

After years of thwarted playoff runs and tireless retreads of DeRozan and Lowry-led teams, anything short of an Eastern Conference championship this year should be seen as a disappointment for Toronto.

Breaking down the Cavs

The Cavs clawed its way out of the first round behind LeBron’s 45 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals in Game 7.

The Indiana Pacers gave the Cavs all they could handle in the first round and came close to pulling off the four-five upset and handing LeBron the first round-one playoff loss of his career.

A lack of support mired the Cavs in the first round, as the team shuffled players in search of effective lineups.

The Cavs landed on a throwback to its 2016 glory days to start game 7, when LeBron started alongside veterans J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Kyle Korver.

It’s unclear if this lineup will continue to log heavy minutes – or continue to be productive – but it appeared to bring stability to an uncertain Cavs team in a must-win game 7, and could anchor the team as it continues to figure out its chemistry in the second round.

Ty Lue strayed away from small-ball, Love-at-center lineups that he rolled out for much of the season, by keeping either Thompson or Larry Nance Jr. on the floor for nearly the entire game to provide rebounding and rim-protection.

The Cavs played well against the Raptors in the regular season, winning two-of-three matchups including the most recent two.

Cleveland eliminated Toronto in the past two postseasons – in the second round last season, and in the conference finals in 2016 – which figures to provide a mental edge, even if the Raptors have played like the better team for most of the season.

The first round exposed the Cavs’ inconsistent offense, almost non-existent defense, and dependence on LeBron giving all-time-great performances. As great as he’s been, relying on that kind of production is unsustainable, and a team as deep and versatile as the Raptors are better equipped to maximize on Cleveland’s vulnerabilities.

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The Cavs will have to solidify an identity on offense and defense, and the Raptors will finally have to get past LeBron for a chance to win this series.

Both teams have a real shot at advancing to the conference finals and beyond. Based on each team’s season so far, I give the slight edge to Toronto.