CLEVELAND – The Toronto Raptors have found a way to beat Cleveland at home.
Now they head back into the inhospitable Quicken Loans Arena with the daunting task of stealing a game on the road.
The Raptors dropped the opening two games of the Eastern Conference final by a combined 50 points on the Cavaliers’ home court, before knotting the series at 2-2 with a pair of thrilling victories at home.
Same city, but coach Dwane Casey is predicting a much different game this time against the backdrop of Cavs’ wine and gold.
WATCH: Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan spoke to reporters Monday night about the Toronto Raptors being taken seriously as a team that could win the NBA finals.
“I will say this: It’s going to be a different animal back in Cleveland, as it is in every series,” Casey said Tuesday. “When you go into another team’s home territory, it’s a little bit tougher. But (the two wins) does give us more rhythm and more confidence going against them now that we have a little bit better feel of what we can and cannot do against this team.”
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The Raptors opened the conference finals two nights after dispatching Miami in seven games in the semis, and faced a Cavs team coming off nine days of rest.
Over four games, they’ve become more familiar with what the Cavs are trying to do, Casey said, and they’ve become confident in their ability to stop it.
“It gets into a little more of a chess match as the series goes on,” Casey said. “We’ve learned some things, and I’m sure they have too.”
The Raptors are 8-2 at home and 2-6 on the road in the post-season, winning Game 3 in both Indiana and Miami.
The Raptors are proving everyone wrong after virtually no-one gave them a chance of more than a token win in this series. Now Canada’s lone NBA franchise is two victories away from the NBA finals, prompting ESPN host Stephen A. Smith to apologize Tuesday night to “all Canadians everywhere” for doubting the Raptors.
“I can’t put into words how stunned I am, I can’t believe what I saw,” Smith said.
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“I gotta be a man of my word and just apologize to Canada, all Canadians everywhere because I certainly thought that this was going back to Cleveland, 3-1 â€¦ with the Cavs closing this series out on Wednesday night so I wouldn’t have to go back to Canada and go through customs and all that other nonsense.”
Smith called the Raptors winning two straight “inexplicable.”
“I can’t understand what’s happened to Cleveland right now,” Smith said. “They don’t resemble the team that has won 10 straight playoff games prior to losing the last two.”
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The key to a win Wednesday, Casey said, is limiting the Cavaliers’ runs. Game 2 in Cleveland was tied late in the second quarter but the Cavs closed out the half with a brisk 16-2 run. It was a hole too deep for the Raptors to dig out of.
“The games that we lost there, there were probably three- or four-minute segments, portions of the game that really did us in in both games,” Casey said. “If we can sustain our defence against their runs and not let them blow it open in those three- or four-minute segments. . . and we’ve got to respond offensively.”
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Toronto’s all-star backcourt was superb in Tuesday’s victory – Kyle Lowry had 35 points while DeMar DeRozan added 32.
Each has struggled at times these playoffs, but when they’re both firing on all cylinders, pity the opponent.
“They’re always dangerous with the guys they have who can get going at any time,” said Cleveland’s backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova. “Once they get it going, it’s hard to stop because they hit tough shots and make plays. It’s up to us to try to take them out of their rhythm and make it as hard as possible on them.”
Casey hopes to get Jonas Valanciunas into Game 5, but it depends on the Cavs’ lineup. Valanciunas, who sprained his ankle in Game 3 of the Miami series, rejoined the active roster ahead of Tuesday’s game, but didn’t play.
“I know he’s our starting centre, but it’s tough to put him out there if they’re playing Channing Frye big minutes at (centre),” Casey said. “We just have to make sure that he has a matchup and he’s not out there chasing three-point shooters all around the perimeter.
“He’s going to be valuable for us because he is an excellent passer and can make plays from the top of the key.”