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The first time the Toronto Raptors played the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, it was a stunning blowout, a 34-point victory for Kyle Lowry and Co. It was a sign, everyone thought, that perhaps this year would be different. And after the Raptors earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Cavs needed a heroic effort from LeBron James just to avoid elimination at the hands of the Indiana Pacers in the first round, it seemed that maybe, just maybe, this was the Raptors' time.
But, of course, it was not. It has never been their time against LeBron and the Cavaliers in the playoffs, and after this time around, it's looking like it never will be. In fitting fashion, the Cavs closed out the series with a 35-point blowout, a near mirror image to that humiliating loss back in January. Now, the Cavaliers will march on to their fourth straight Eastern Conference finals, while the Raptors will again go home to try and make sense of another season ending prematurely at the hands of the Cavaliers.
Here are a few takeaways from the Cavs' sweep of the Raptors:
LeBron James is still the best, most dominant player in the world, and he proved it in this series. That he needed to go into hero mode so many times in the first round to save the Cavaliers could have potentially been a good sign for the Raptors, but unfortunately for them, he just never turned it off. In the four games, LeBron averaged 34 points, 8.3 rebounds and 11.3 assists on 55 percent shooting from the field. His Game 2 performance, in particular, was simply stunning. Over and over, he tossed in remarkable fadeaway jumpers, many so difficult it seemed he was pulling a cruel joke about how painfully he could destroy the Raptors' dreams.
That LeBron was able to once again crush the Raptors and take easily the worst Cavaliers team he's had since his first stint in The Land back to the ECF is a testament to his greatness. It truly is a joy to watch him operate at this high of a level.
Kevin Love is back, baby. In large part due to a thumb injury, the Cavs' All-Star big man was a non-factor for pretty much the entire first-round series with the Pacers, and stunk in Game 1 of this series. But he figured things out in Game 2, and had a tremendous final three games of the series. He averaged 25 points and 11 rebounds on 54 percent shooting in those three games, providing a huge boost to help the Cavs get the sweep. In Games 2-4, Love had a remarkable net rating differential of plus-48.1 points per 100 possessions, by far the highest mark of any rotation player.
With Kyrie Irving gone, and a number of role players in his place, Love is by far the Cavs' second-best player. And so when he struggles, things can go way south, as the Pacers series showed. But as the final three games of this series showed, the Cavs can reach another level when he's playing this well. It will be interesting to see whether Love can carry these performances into the ECF.
More so than any other summer, the Raptors will have a difficult few months ahead. They overhauled their entire system and philosophy, earned the No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history, finished the regular season with a top-five offense and defense and it just didn't matter. That's tough to deal with.
Now, they'll have some difficult questions to ask themselves. Do they just try running things back and hoping either LeBron leaves and goes to the Western Conference, or things break their way in the playoffs? Or do they try to make some sort of drastic change, whether that's to the roster or the coaching staff? Given how little flexibility they have with the roster and cap space, and how strong the team was up until this series, it seems the wise move would be to just try again next season. But these are the type of failures that seem to bring about some sort of radical change in NBA organizations. Everyone will have a close eye on the Raptors this summer.
LeBron James, Cavaliers sweep Raptors to reach Eastern Conference finals: Takeaways
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