With all of the drama following the Thunder’s blowout victory in game 3 of the Western Conference Finals and Draymond Green’s “kick heard ‘round the world”, it’s pretty easy to forget that game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals is tonight. The forgetfulness also might have to do with the first two games of this series being decided by a combined 50 points, in which Toronto appeared entirely overmatched, outscored in all eight quarters by the Cavaliers.
In those first two games, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continued to struggle to power the Raptors’ offense without Jonas Valanciunas, combining to shoot 39.7% from the field and just 6.3% from behind the arc. Compounding the issue, the Raptors’ defense had no answer for the Cavaliers’ offense, which averaged 111.5 points per game while shooting just below 53% from the field. Calling the Raptors’ performances in Cleveland abysmal would be an understatement.
But Toronto responded in game 3, beating the Cavaliers by 15 as their backcourt duo combined for 52 points while shooting 51.4% from the field. Bismack Biyombo finished with 26 boards and no player on the Raptors’ roster finished the game with a negative plus-minus. Despite the strong showing from the home team, Toronto’s win has been largely ignored and regarded as a fluke by basketball fans everywhere. As soon as the Raptors won game 7 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, popular opinion and sports columnists everywhere crowned the Cavaliers Eastern Conference champions. However, we shouldn’t count Toronto out yet.
The series is only at 2-1 in favor of the Cavaliers, as you would expect any series to be if teams are supposed to win their home games. The Cavs’ wins throughout the playoffs have been impressive; outscoring teams by 119 points in the 11 games they’ve played.
These wins were largely powered by their three point shooting. The team has shot an astounding 43.5% from deep in the playoffs, a 7.3% uptick from their regular season average and even 1.9% better than Golden State’s average this season. To further put their shooting streak in perspective, if this shooting were sustained throughout an entire season, the Cavs’ would set a new NBA record. The team is making 4 more three-pointers per game than they did in the regular season, which if taken away would leave them being outscored by their opponents by 13 points throughout the playoffs.
The Cavaliers set the top two records for most three pointers made in a 4-game series in their first two series this postseason. The 77 made in the Eastern Conference Semis are the second most made in any playoffs series in NBA history. We had to know the Cavaliers’ historic three-point barrage would soon come to an end. They’ve been riding the hot hands of J.R. Smith, arguably the streakiest shooter in NBA history with no off-switch, and Channing Frye, a glorified role-player happy to be in the playoffs after falling flat in a starting role in Orlando.
In game 3, Cleveland shot a much more reasonable 34% from three. If that signifies the beginning of the end for Cleveland’s three-point assault, Toronto is in good shape. All the Raptors have to do in game 4 is hold serve—protecting their home court behind strong performances from DeRozan and Lowry. If they do that successfully, and Valanciunas is able to come back for game 5 or 6 later this week, this series has the potential to get interesting.