Toronto Raptors May Still Not Be Able To Defeat Cavaliers

Benson Kua
Photo: Benson Kua

Lately, there has been a ton of hype in the NBA about the constant improvement of the Toronto Raptors. The team is playing some excellent basketball and look like they will end the regular season with the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. However, a shadow looms over the team heading into the NBA Playoffs. That shadow is their track record of playoff performances, which have ranged from disappointing to downright dismal during this era of franchise history.

As a result of that unfortunate history, many are still questioning whether or not the Raptors have what it takes to push through and win the Eastern Conference this season. Even as the top seed in the East, the Raptors would presumably have to go through the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the Raptors have been superior to Cleveland all season long, there are big concerns after the Raptors’ recent stumble during a very winnable game in Cleveland.

The Raptors had taken a double-digit lead against the Cavaliers in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, and closing the game out with a win would have sent a big message to the rest of the league before the playoffs. A win would have let the league know that the team could easily win in Cleveland and that the Raptors could, therefore, win the Eastern Conference. At the very least, it would have sent the message that the Cavaliers should be worried about the Raptors.

Instead, the Raptors did what the Raptors have done so many times in important games and they fell apart at the seams. They sent the message to the rest of the league that they have the potential to falter in important moments, and that the rest of the Eastern Conference still has a chance to get the better of their conference’s top seed. It was the worst message they could have sent, but the Raptors reverted back to their old ways in a big way.

In fact, it was the Cavaliers who ended up making a statement in this game. They showed the Raptors and the rest of the Eastern Conference that they can still go as far as LeBron James will take them. While this year has been disappointing for the Cavs, they still have the best player in the world who appears to still be at the peak of his powers. In the star-driven NBA, that can be enough to get a team to the NBA Finals.

Double Feature
Photo: Double Feature

There is no denying that the Toronto Raptors have been a different team this season than they have been in years past. The biggest change has been their switch from being a team focused on shooting mid-range jump shots to shooting three-point shots. This transition has been the product of the analytical revolution in the NBA, where teams have come to the realization that shooting long two-point shots is far less efficient than shooting the longer three-point shot. While the three-point shot is a lower percentage shot, it is also worth more, which allows some flexibility with shooting percentages.

The biggest beneficiary of this shift for the Raptors has been DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan was more guilty than anyone of shooting long two-point shots, which drove fans and analysts crazy. Here was the most talented player on the floor in most games, shooting a shot that was actively harming his team’s chances to win on a regular basis. This course correction has made him a more efficient player and has made the Raptors better as a whole.

When it comes to betting on the Toronto Raptors to exorcise their demons and reach the finals, there has been some support. In spite of their issues in the postseason, their full-season body of work has shown that they are worth considering. And, thanks to the ease of betting online and with mobile devices, backing the Raptors is easier than ever – even in the absence of fiat currency. Bitcoin or BTC is a novel way to fund a sports betting account, thanks to its lack of restrictions compared to other currencies. Whether or not using it to back the Raptors is a good decision remains to be seen though.

The Raptors have relinquished some opportunities to clearly define themselves as one of the best teams in the NBA. Sure, they have had some good wins. They beat the red-hot Houston Rockets at home, for example, but for every one of those wins has come a tough loss like this one against the Cavaliers. In the playoffs, splitting games at home and on the road will produce a game seven situation. Those are difficult, even when playing at home. And, while the Raptors would be at home in a game seven situation due to their number one seed, their history in pressure-packed games would not necessarily inspire confidence in that spot.

When push comes to shove, this is a situation where it will always be difficult to believe in the Toronto Raptors until they find a way to prove the doubters wrong by winning a conference championship. That is not to say that they will always fail to achieve that goal, but just that it is hard to justify backing them to get over the hump until it actually happens. Just like you would not predict that Wile E. Coyote will finally catch the Roadrunner; the same situation applies to the Raptors.

Of course, all of this could change depending on what happens in the rest of the Eastern Conference playoffs. While the Raptors have been difficult to believe in come playoff time, so have the other teams in the Eastern Conference – other than the Cavaliers. And, with the Cavaliers’ roster consisting of very few players that were on their title-winning team a couple of seasons ago, there is always the chance that LeBron and company get sent packing early in the postseason. If that were to happen, the Raptors could become the favorites to win the East all over again. In a rare instance in recent NBA history, there may not be a clear-cut favorite in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

Photo: “ACC” by Benson Kua (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Raptor” by Double Feature (CC BY-SA 2.0)