Flashback to last season with me. The Cleveland Cavaliers win Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors by a 31-point margin. In Game 2 the Cavs win by 19 points. Media outlets and sportscasters are saying "the Raptors are finished" and "it's over".
The words "overmatched" and "no-hope" were used to define the Raptors Game 1 and 2 performances. Stephen A. Smith gave the Raptors credit with the possibility of maybe stealing a game IF "Jonas Valanciunas comes back healthy."
But then the Raptors beat the Cavs not once but twice on their home court, to tie the series 2-2 heading back to Cleveland.
Now flash forward to today.
Cleveland played the Raptors and beat them handily in games 1 and 2 in Cleveland. On Friday, the Cavs will play at the Air Canada Centre, a place where they went 1-2 in the ECF last season. So how do the Cavs avoid "Deja Vu" and not fall apart on the road in Game 3 and Game 4?
First of all, and most importantly, the Cavaliers MUST play with pace.
If you watched Games 1 and 2 you know that the Quicken Loans Arena was crazy, and the Cavs played even crazier. Granted it was a controlled frenzy that baffled the Raptors into turnovers, bad shots, and miscommunication on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
Cleveland needs to play uptempo. They need to move the ball and push in the fastbreak. LeBron has been incredible at this in the playoffs, and it has to continue in Toronto.
Secondly, the Cavs must involve Kevin Love.
It is difficult to play the fastbreak and still get K-Love the ball because Love is definitely not regarded as a "fast" player. The problem is, no one on the Raptors can guard Love. Serge Ibaka isn't strong enough, and P.J. Tucker isn't tall enough. If the Cavs feed Love in the post, he can feast on either of those players.
The other problem the Raptors have to deal with is if one of those guys is guarding Love, that means he isn't guarding LeBron, who has been a huge problem for not just the Raptors but also the whole NBA this season.
Finally, Cleveland must continue their defensive effort and communication.
The Cavs have been doubling Demar DeRozan out of pick and rolls, and DeRozan isn't comfortable enough to make the pass out of the double-team. When DeRozan does make the pass, the Cavs have been quick to rotate and find shooters on the perimeter.
If the Cavaliers can keep up the effort and intensity the Raptors will continue to struggle to score the ball.
The Cavs don't want anything to do with "Deja-Vu" in this instance. Their goal is to get through the playoffs as quickly as possible in their looming matchup with the Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers took Games 3 and 4 for granted last season, don't expect them to make the same mistake again.
Do you think the Cavs struggle north of the border again this year?