Sports

NBA PLAYOFFS

Cavaliers blow out Raptors to end historic playoff run

By Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun

Twenty games later, it is finally over.

The finest playoff run in the history of the Raptors franchise came to a conclusion on home court — with a fitting sendoff from the best fans in the NBA.

Down 24 points with 2:38 to go in the game and the contest over, Dwane Casey subbed out his starters while the fan base stood and cheered them with a “Let’s Go Raptors” chant.

For the remainder of the game, that chant filled the arena. It only stopped when it was replaced by one more “We the North” chant by an appreciative fan base that was still on its feet through the final horn.

It was a fitting sendoff for a team that did its city proud.

The fight the Cavaliers had in Game 5 in Cleveland made the trek to Toronto this time and was met with an equal physical force, but the Raptors just didn’t have the depth or experience to make it count.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were just too much for the Raptors, who fought to the bitter end but could not match the Cavs Big 3 primarily because they could not come close to matching their three-point shooting. Toronto evenually fell113-87 to the Cavs, who became the first team in this series to win on the opponent’s home court.

Cleveland now advances to the NBA Finals, where the Cavs will take on the winner of the Western Conference final between Oklahoma City and Golden State.

“I’m so proud of our guys to go through what they have been through with two seven-game series and a six-game series, but I did think mental fatigue did set in,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “When we talk to guys next year about a situation, they can refer back to how hard it was in the Indy series or how hard it was in the Miami series or how hard it was in this series and the kind of focus and attention to detail you have to have.”

For the game, the Cavs shot just shy of 55% from three, making 17 of their 31 attempts from beyond the arc.

The Raptors were well behind that and only got remotely close with a push from Kyle Lowry, who went on a three-point run late in the third and got the team numbers up to an almost respectable 8-for-25.

The loss in six games to the No. 1-seeded Cavs is nothing to be ashamed of.

Certainly their head coach wasn’t anything but thrilled with what he got from his group, but pointed out they will no longer be able to sneak up on anyone.

“Now the target is on their back,” Casey said. “We are one of four teams left. We should be proud of that but not satisfied.”

Yes, there were a few games in Cleveland in this series that won’t make it into the Raptors’ vault of finest moments from the 2016 playoff run, but a Cavs team with James, Irving, and Love operating at peak efficiency will do that to a team.

And as bad as those games were, there were enough moments on the home court in the series that the Raptors can go into the off-season knowing they are better for all the experiences, both good and bad, that were a part of this historic run.

A 56-game season, a seven-game series win over Indiana in the conference quarter-final, another seven game series win in the conference semi-final over Miami and yes, even this six-game loss to the Cavs are all moments of growth for a franchise that is headed in the right direction.

Lowry and DeRozan, who were bottled up in that tough-to-stomach Game 5 loss in Cleveland, rebounded with 35- and 20-point games Friday at the ACC but it wasn’t enough to offset the Cavs stellar night from behind the arc, where Cleveland outscored Toronto by 27 points.

Lowry in particular was locked in especially during the third quarter when he went off for 18 and looked like he might bring the Raptors back into this one by himself. That turned out to be just a tease as the Cavs would go on to double the Raptors in the final quarter to pull away comfortably.

But where the Raptors had two guns firing, the Cavs had three.

James and Irving would up with 33 and 30 points, respectively, while both James and Love had double-doubles in the points and rebounds department. Irving finished one assist shy of his own double-double.

“We gotta have that third person step up and I thought we had some good looks, but again this is a learning experience for us,” Casey said. “That group was there last year. We are not where they are right now but we are going to be.”

The Raptors suffered a casualty for a potential Game 7 just under nine minutes into the game when Bismack Biyombo was assessed a flagrant foul.

It was the third flagrant of the playoffs for Biyombo, one of them a flagrant two meaning he has amassed four flagrant foul points and would be suspended had the Raptors extended the series to seven games..

The fact that no foul was initially assessed on the play as Biyombo turned to the basket and in doing so caught Kevin Love squarely on the chin with an elbow only enraged the fans.

Upon review the basket was taken off the board and the flagrant assessed which sent the crowd into a tizzy.

Had the Raptors somehow extended this series to seven games they would have become the first team in NBA history to go through three seven-game series in advance of a Finals.

mganter@postmedia.com



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