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​Clevland Cavaliers Second Round Recap 2016

Chad W. Lutz
A microcosm of the second round series vs. Atlanta. Here, J.R. Smith (5) shoots one of his 5,000 3's over defender Mike Scott (32).
Smith connected on 4,998 of them
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Eight games. That's all the Cleveland Cavaliers have needed thus far to dispatch their first- and second-round opponents. Eight games. Including the regular season, that puts the Cavs at 65-25. Heading into tonight's contest, the Toronto Raptors have played fourteen playoff games, nearly double that of the Cavaliers. In that same timespan of nearly a month, the Raptors have played basically every other day, posting an 8-6 record and having won no more than two games in a row to lower-seeded teams. Their record now sits at 64-32.

The Raptors were forced into seven-game series with both the Pacers and Heat after falling behind 1-0 in each at home early on. That kind of wear and tear can have a lasting effect on players, especially on the heels of playing a full season. Most of their key players have look frazzled. Toronto is playing down to their opponents' abilities, and then allows themselves to fall behind once their opponents have the momentum, something you never want to do in basketball, at any level. Could playing six extra games this "season" account for that sloppy play? Time will tell, I suppose. But, for right now, things are not looking good for The North.

Not since the 2008-2009 playoff stretch has a Cleveland team dominated the first two rounds of the playoffs the way they have. They passing the ball and getting everyone involved. And, for once, the team doesn't inherently swivel on the broad, chiseled shoulders of No. 23. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love played like the All-Stars we hoped (and pay) them to be. Iman Shumpert was stifling on defense. J.R. Smith was on another plane of existence from downtown. Even Channing Frye seemed ready to fire the trigger and connect on buckets when we needed them most. And Tristan Thompson, after a mostly sleepy regular season, is playing every bit the part of a man who deserves $82 million over five years. Snatching rebounds and blocking shots left and right. And now, with a second full week's-plus worth of rest heading into the Eastern Conference Finals (the sixth ECF appearance in the team's history), we're rested, refreshed, and ready to get back out there and romp.
It didn't matter if there were two or even three guys on him at once; Tristan Thompson was a rebounding, shot-blocking force that could not be denied during the second round. (
However, the biggest takeaway from the second round of action against Atlanta isn't the Cavs' ability to bury barrages of three pointers at will, or anything even remotely related to offense in general. It's the Cavs' defense. With the exception of a hot Dennis Schroder in Game 1, no single Hawks player was able to find their rhythm during the four-game series, which led to a lot of timely turnovers and missed opportunities. Coming into Round 2, the Hawks were a 102ppg team. The Cavs held them to 99.5ppg. That may not seem like much, but anytime you can keep the opposing team below 100 points in a game, it gives you a great shot at winning.

Ironically, the Cavs faced both the Pistons and the Hawks (and in the same order) during that particular 2008-2009 playoff run. They swept each team without much trouble, before having their championship dreams derailed by Dwight Howard and his Merry Band of Misfit Assholes in six games in the Conference Finals. This is the playoffs, and anything that can happen probably will. I highly doubt LeBron James has forgotten what happened in 2009, and I'm sure he's probably vocal about it in the locker rooms. This series is the Cavs to lose. And that isn't just my opinion; most of the basketball world feels the same way.

The Raptors are going to have to come up with some sinisterly miraculous play, particularly at the hands of All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan without their valued beast of a center, Jonas Valanciunas, in order to fend off the hot hands of the Wine and Gold. I'd make a prediction, but it was that very series against the Magic seven years ago that has snuffed any inclination I've had to predict a winner in anything, not just basketball. It all depends on who shows up to play. If DeRozan and Lowry come out swinging, and their role players step up, there's no telling what can happen in this series. One thing, however, is for sure: LeBron James, much like last year's Finals run, will die trying to stop that from happening, or at least come awful close.

Thank God we don't have Mike Miller or Sean Marion anymore.

​Eastern Conference Finals Schedule:
Game 1 vs. Raptors 5/17 at 8:30pm
Game 2 vs. Raptors 5/19 at 8:30pm
Game 3 @ Raptors 5/21 at 8:30pm
Game 4 @ Raptors 5/23 at 8:30pm
Game 5 vs. Raptors 5/25 (if necessary)
Game 6 @ Raptors 5/27 (if necessary)
Game 7 vs. Raptors 5/29 (if necessary)