It’s amazing how a couple of days off can help to clear a players head. Kyle Lowry has been written off as a dead man walking multiple times in these playoffs, but he’s gone the way of Lazarus in these past two games resurrecting his three point shot as well as the Raptors chances of winning this series. Lowry scored 35 points on 14-20 shooting in the Raptors 105-99 win over the Cavaliers.
The big difference in the past two games, outside of Kyle Lowry finding his game has been the emergence of Bismack Biyombo as a rebounding and shot blocking monster. The Raptors defense has put a emphasis on defending the three point shot, and it has been mostly up to Biyombo to protect the rim. The big question coming into this series was when would Jonas Valanciunas get back into the fray. He was listed as available last night, but the superb play of Biyombo allowed coach Dwane Casey to give their star big man another night off to heal.
The reemergence of the Toronto’s two All Stars has completely changed the dynamic of this series. The constant aggression of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry has exposed the biggest weakness of the Cavs – they have no stoppers at the rim. They can constantly run Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love off of pick and rolls with one of their two stars and get a huge mismatch. I really expected Tyronn Lue to start playing Timofey Mozgov just to get some extra rim protection in the game, but Mozgov has only played 9 minutes in the series. DeRozan has scored 64 points in the past two games, taking full advantage of open driving lines and not settling for too many long twos.
The player has been most effected by Toronto’s change in defensive philosophy is Kevin Love. Love has been the big beneficiary of Cleveland’s run-and-gun offense, but now that the Raps are clamping down on outside shooters he is having a hard time fitting in. When Love is not scoring his effectiveness on the court drops big time. He is not a shutdown defender and has not had a game with over ten rebounds in the series. He is shooting 5-23 in the two games played in Toronto and is generally getting destroyed by Biyombo in the post. Channing Frye has seen his minutes go up in these losses and a lot of that can be contributed with Love playing poorly. Frye has been red hot from beyond the arch, but the 33 year olds defense is also suspect, which is a problem when having to handle DeRozan and Lowry on pick and rolls.
How much of the past two games can be contributed to the Raptors stars simply playing better against how much has Cleveland’s offense been effected by some subtle defensive adjustments from Casey? Can Tyronn Lue, who has made some smart lineup adjustments to get optimum efficiency from his bench, find ways to get Kevin Love back into this series? These are two questions that I’m interested to see answered in game five. The Cavs are finally being tested, and only player that has seemed to hold his composure has been LeBron James. It’s time to see if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can step up their defense, and help put away this suddenly dangerous Raptors squad. This is the kind of testing that Cleveland needs before they have to face the true challenger in either the Warriors or Thunder.