The first two games of the series between the Cavaliers and the Raptors did little to dispel the notion that Cleveland was the best team in the conference by a wide margin. A sweep didn’t seem out of the question following two blowouts. It was simply hard to imagine what it would take for Toronto to beat them.
The answer, apparently, was a dominant performance from Bismack Biyombo and some of the worst games of both Kyrie Irving’s and Kevin Love’s career. All three things happened on Saturday to propel Toronto to a 99-84 win on what might have been one of the most unsustainable performances in the playoffs so far.
If we had to rank everything that went right for the Raptors in order of weirdness, Biyombo’s 26-rebound night would come in first. The 23-year-old center has always been good at cleaning the glass but what he did on Saturday was historically great. The only other player in the last 33 seasons to log that many boards in a playoff game was Hakeem Olajuwon. No one saw this coming from someone who pulled down nine rebounds in the first two games combined.
Meanwhile, two actual stars struggled like they rarely have in the past. Kevin Love had fewer than five points and five rebounds while playing at least 10 minutes for just the eighth time in his career and the first since 2011. It was the 12th time Kyrie Irving shot below 20 percent while taking at least 10 field goals. They had some of the most forgettable games since entering the NBA and they happened in the same night.
Needless to say, those three separate things won’t likely happen again in this series. Biyombo will likely revert to a more normal version of himself that still does well on the glass and contests shots but doesn’t put up historic numbers. Love and Irving will be more productive, simply because it’s almost impossible for them to play any worse going forward.
The Cavaliers are still going to be rightfully considered the favorite to win Game 4 and the series. What happened on Saturday is a just a huge outlier and considering it anything else would be foolish.
Yet it counted as a win nonetheless and now the Raptors have something to build on. DeMar DeRozan’s 32-point outing is not a surprise and neither is the play of Kyle Lowry and the bench. There’s a chance Jonas Valanciunas returns for Game 4 or 5, which means they won’t need Biyombo to channel Hakeem again. Love and Irving are partially to blame for their struggles, sure, but the defense deserves some credit as well.
Game 3 might have been an aberration, but at least now the Raptors know that they can beat the Cavaliers, even if it will take some strange events for it to happen. That was not the case when the series was in Cleveland, where they seemed helpless against an opponent that appeared to be better at everything.
The Raptors have hope now and, as irrational as it might be, that counts for something.
2 other things we learned
Starting Luis Scola paid off for the Raptors
Luis Scola finished the game with zero points, zero rebounds, one assist and one turnover, yet helped the Raptors win. Him being in the starting lineup and giving Dwane Casey some decent minutes at power forward has allowed Toronto to stay big most of the game and for Patrick Patterson to stick to play the sixth-man role he played for most of the season and which is the one he’s most comfortable filling.
The Cavaliers could adjust and simply have Love go at Scola early. He should have the upper hand in the post, as Scola is simply not a great defender. If double teams come, Love is a good enough passer to find the open man. Changing the plan of attack to feature Love more early hasn’t been something that Ty Lue has been willing to do in this matchup so far but that might change in Game 4.
Kyle Lowry lives!
Lowry went 4-for-14 in each of the first two games of the series and had a combined nine turnovers to eight assists. It was safe to assume he was not going to be a big factor, as nagging injuries clearly were bothering him too much to allow him to play at his usual level. Then in Game 3 he came back from the dead to finish with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc. And he did it all while battling foul trouble.
It shouldn’t be surprising to see him have a night like Saturday’s. He has had several moments in this postseason in which he has looked done, only to bounce back. His shot abandoned him in the first round only to return against the Heat when Valanciunas went down. It went away once again as soon as the conference finals started, but now it might be back.
It has been an up-and-down postseason for Lowry. Toronto is surely hoping this time that the good play will last for more than just a game.
Play of the night
Kyrie Irving is going to have nightmares about Biyombo after Saturday’s game.
1 fun thing