Not to be nostalgic or sound like a basketball curmudgeon, but I had my doubts about this new perimeter-based brand of NBA ball, but after watching a scrappy Toronto Raptors squad win 56 games (one game less than Cleveland) and make it to the Conference Finals, where the series is knotted at 2-2, I'm satisfied that the action is still faaaan-tastic.
Stephen A Smith and his infatuation with LeBron James may have led to him being flabbergasted that Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan have been able to recover from their early round shooting woes, but them boys kept telling us game after game and win after win that their shots would start falling.
And just as Cleveland’s impressive and unexpected three-point accuracy came to an end in this series, the Lowry and DeRozan show began.
Their offensive attacks may have been colder than the heart of Empire's Lucious Lyon in the first two series, which they won anyway, but the Turn Up Twins have found the stroke and they are showing everyone that youth, limitless energy, defense and being in a zone can change the course of an NBA series.
The second of back-to-back 32 point games for DeRozan and a 35-point explosion by Lowery on Monday night resulted in a 105-99 Game 4 victory for Toronto in front of a sell out Canadian crowd. In this battle of heavyweights, the New Jack Raptors are talking tough, confident and don’t seem to be flinching a bit or fazed by the wily vet Cavs.
Cleveland staggered them with a couple of jabs, but resilient is one word that epitomizes this Raptors squad, who ended the game on an 11-3 run in the fourth. It was another moment that proved the Raptors have "closers" just like the other squads remaining in the playoffs and Lowry expressed it best after the game in an interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke.
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“We came home and protected home court and that's what we are supposed to do,” Lowry said. “I'm a confident player... I go out there and do my job...My teammates and family and friends believe in me...at the end of the day I can live with the critics..I keep working”
Toronto has changed its franchise forever in these playoffs and are making believers out of a legion of fans. For one, they have introduced the country to the Raptors’ unknown “Big Three” consisting of Lowry, DeRozan and Bismack Biyombo. Together these small market superstars are changing the narrative in a series that once looked like nothing more than a cake walk for Cleveland.
Everyone is talking about OKC’s ascension to that “next step.” Well Toronto has already taken a next step just by tying this series after getting blitzed in the first two games in Cleveland.
Somebody is lacking a killer instinct here and it’s not Toronto. LeBron had a deceiving 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Problem is, Cleveland was up 94-92 and he didn’t score or take a shot in the last 5 minutes and 28 seconds of the game. We often find ourselves in this familiar place with King James come playoff time. As much as he fancies his "point guard" skills and is lauded for his abilities as a facilitator, he has lost playoff series in the past because of his passivity on offense in crucial moments.
In post game commentary, Tim Legler and Stephen A. Smith killed LeBron for that passiveness on offense.
“He came up small, when it counted most,” said Smith after the game.
LeBron and Co. thought they would get a chance to rest and watch OKC and Golden State tire each other out for seven games. All of a sudden Cleveland and coach Tyronn Lue are fighting for their lives and Kevin Love has slipped back into a funk at the worst time.
Love has lost the flow of the offense again and considering how he was unable to help Cleveland in last season’s playoffs, you’d think the high-priced spot-shooter would be foaming at the mouth to get busy and make up for lost time.
The Cavs are a perplexing bunch. They had so much success with LeBron driving to the pill in those first two games. They looked like a well-oiled machine. Then I guess they got cocky for some reason and started trying to win games playing with Golden State’s unprecedented perimeter style. That didn’t last too long and now Cleveland’s offense is shaky and as far as playoff aggression goes, the rowdy Raptors have that on lock as well.