Shook in Cleveland
The Toronto Raptors are a totally different team on the road
After getting showered and dressed, Luis Scola maneuvered over to the buffet table set up in the Toronto Raptors’ locker room and piled his plate up high. Then he got settled in at his locker, took a deep breath and dug in.
Honestly, it might have been the first time a member of the Raptors demonstrated any sign of hunger the entire night.
The Raptors entered the day confident, winning two games in Toronto to even the Eastern Conference finals at two games. They exited Quicken Loans Arena shell-shocked after Wednesday’s 116-78 loss, looking less like an NBA playoff, final-four participant and more like a candidate for Iyanla Vanzant’s reality television series Iyanla: Fix My Life.
“It was embarrassing,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey explained.” [But] this series is not over.”
Yes, the Raptors can win Friday and force a Game 7. And, yes, the Raptors have already played — and won — two Game 7s this postseason.
But the Raptors have not only lost their three games in Cleveland this series, they’ve been destroyed. With the 38-point defeat in Game 5, Toronto has now lost its three road games in the series by an average of 29.3 points.
It was a game so lopsided that fans began leaving at halftime.
It was a game so ugly that viewers began tweeting about switching their televisions to the women’s NCAA golf championship.
So what happened to the sustained effort that Casey promised in the hour before the game, preaching about his team’s new confidence and the character his players had built in winning two Game 7s this postseason?
What happened to Toronto’s backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, which played so well while combining for 67 points in the Game 4 victory that they were being compared with the best guard duo in the NBA? DeRozan took only eight shots in 31 minutes Wednesday night and scored 14 points; Lowry had 13 points and a team-high five turnovers.
Where was the dominant inside presence from Bismack Biyombo, a soon-to-be free agent whose play in the middle was the difference in the two Toronto wins? Biyombo was so impressive in filling in at center for Jonas Valanciunas that the reserve center suddenly emerged as a sought-after free agent, with some reports indicating he might be able to command upward of $15 million per year.
“I have to do a better job of bringing better energy for my teammates,” Biyombo said after finishing with seven points and four rebounds in 21 minutes. “For whatever reason, we’re just a different team on the road.”
Correction, Bismack: A different team in Cleveland.
The Raptors have proven they can win big road games this postseason.
After splitting their first two games in Toronto in the first round against the Indiana Pacers, they regained home-court advantage with an 101-85 road win in Game 3. The Raptors advanced by winning Game 7 at home.
After splitting their first two games in Toronto against Miami in the conference semifinals, they regained home-court advantage with a 95-91 road win in Game 3. The Raptors advanced by winning Game 7 at home.
The Raptors must win Friday at home to force another Game 7. But if they’re successful, they won’t have the luxury of playing in front of their home fans in Toronto; instead, they’ll have to play on the road in Cleveland, where the Raptors have been bullied so thoroughly that they haven’t resembled a team worthy of being two games away from the NBA Finals.
That must have been on the mind of DeRozan and Lowry during Wednesday’s postgame press conference when they were asked,“Guys, even if you even the series you still have to come back here for a Game 7. What’s the mindset of the team knowing that?”
Lowry’s eyes rolled upward as he laughed out loud, leaving DeRozan to respond.
“We’ll figure that out once we get past Friday.”