Monday, June 18, 2018
Sports

Cavs head home facing new battle

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Upon their return from Canada, the Cavaliers had nothing to declare at U.S. Customs.

Their lead in the Eastern Conference finals had already been confiscated.

Cleveland was stripped of its dominance and a 2-0 advantage during a long weekend in Toronto, where the growing-confident-by-the-shot Raptors, propelled by a crowd and city that believes they can make the NBA Finals, won two straight games.

"They flipped the script on us," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

After being throttled by a combined 50 points in Games 1 and 2, the Raptors turned the series into a best-of-three, winner-take-all slugfest. There wasn't supposed to be a Game 5, and now there will be a Game 6 as well.

Unable to contain Toronto All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan from scoring or keep Raptors super sub Bismack Biyombo off the boards, the Cavs are in a predicament.

Gone is their entire margin for error, some of their swagger and any aura of invincibility that surrounded them after reeling off 10 straight wins to open the postseason.

And as the teams prepared for Game 5 tonight, the pressure has swung back on superstar LeBron James and the Cavs, who spent Tuesday in film sessions breaking down went wrong in Toronto.

There was plenty to process from Monday's 105-99 loss.

Cleveland came out flat, falling behind by 16 in the first half and relying too much on its 3-point shooting, which has suddenly gone cold.

The Cavs fought back using a smaller lineup that didn't include the suddenly struggling Kevin Love, but they didn't have enough down the stretch as costly defensive lapses — and terrific shot-making by Lowry and DeRozan — helped the Raptors even the series.

James, who logged 46 minutes in Game 4, did not speak to the media Tuesday.

Lue has carefully administered the four-time MVPs minutes during the second half of the regular season and playoffs, to keep James fresh. James pushed himself harder in Game 4, and Lue said that was the plan.

"We talked about it before the game and the night before how his body felt and wanting to play more minutes because we knew it was a big game for us, but it didn't work out," Lue said.

James maximized his minutes in Game 4, scoring 29 on 11-of-16 shooting with nine rebounds and six assists. He was somewhat passive in the fourth quarter, attempting one shot in the final 5:28. Lue said that was by design as the Cavs took what the defense gave them.

"LeBron knows when he has to take over a basketball game, but also knows he has to trust his teammates," Lue said.

James' faith in Love is being tested.

Cleveland's big man went 1-for-9 in Game 3 and 4-for14 in Game 4, and Lue left him on the bench in the fourth, playing Channing Frye.

"He's just missed shots. That's part of the game," Lue said.

The Raptors have been daring the Cavs to launch from behind the arc. Without center Jonas Valanciunas, who could return in Game 5 from a sprained right ankle, Toronto gave up 106 inside points in the first two games before adjusting in Games 3 and 4 by packing the paint.

"It's a feel," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "It's a rhythm. It's confidence. But I will say this: It's going to be a different animal back in Cleveland."

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