The Eastern Conference Finals starts tomorrow and while it may seem fairly obvious that the first and second seeds in the East face-up in the Finals, the path to the finals of the Cavs and the Raptors couldn’t possibly have been more varied.
While the Cavs steamrolled their way to the Finals blowing the Hawks and the Pistons off the court with their high-powered offense, the Raptors were a symbol of inconsistency and bemused many in their way to the Finals.
The Raptors, according to many and even their own fans might have reached their peak. This is the best ever playoff run by the alienated franchise from the North and while the Finals are upon them, one can’t fault pundits and even fans to have already written them off.
The Heat and the Pacers series were no ordinary playoff battles and we may be right in questioning if there is enough left in the tank for them to make it a contest against the Cavs. Lowry and Derozan had humongous games to finish the Heat series, but they have been too sporadic in the playoffs to genuinely be considered a threat to the Cavs.
Many have questioned the fact that the duo, who have often been termed as the second best backcourt in the game and averaged over 44 ppg in the regular season, can be given a pass for their erratic and rather frustrating performances. Everything for the Raptors in the play-offs till now has been a herky-jerky roller-coaster ride, marked by phases in which they blow teams off the court to stretches where they seem to struggle to buy a basket.
The Cavs under Tyronn Lue have excelled implementing their own version of up-tempo run-and-gun basketball and as is paramount with such a system they have managed to find combinations and the personnel who excel in such situations.
The Cavs are too good offensively and with the Raptors being amongst the worst teams in the league at defending the three-point line, the Cavs are primed for another sweep. This, despite the fact that the Raptors managed to win the season series 2-1.
So, yes the Raptors may not have much of a chance but in Dwane Casey they have one of the best Coaches in the game and he will do everything in his power to make this a competitive series. So, who exactly will be the key players in the series. Here is a look at our top 5.
#5 JR Smith
Yes, the Cavs success story has all been about the Big Three and how effective the LeBron-Irving pick-and-roll has been. LeBron in particular excels at setting up open shooters, but still for all his efforts, he needs a legitimate shot-maker.
Smith just seems the perfect guy for the job right now. Smith in the playoffs so far, has shot better than 50% from beyond the arc, while averaging 11 ppg as the fourth option scorer whilst also averaging a neat 1.6 steals/game.
Smith's decision making may still remain suspect, but Lue realizes that Smith needs to have the freedom to play to his natural instincts and he gives him the offensive freedom to be a no-conscience high-risk shooter. Lue has often implored Smith to shoot the ball more and with Lue and LeBron backing him, Smith seems to be in a comfort zone that has eluded him almost all his career.
While his exploits may have been under the radar it needs to be pointed out that his consistent shooting and stellar defense has been a significant part of the Cavs juggernaut.
Against the Raptors, he will have the tough assignment of keeping DeRozan in check. Smith's defense more than offense is sure to set the tone for the series.