Victoria Day was celebrated in Canada this past weekend. It is a statutory national holiday and serves as the unofficial kickoff to summer. The weather was hot - 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit for my friends south of the border). It was the perfect weekend to get away, relax and do some fishing. At least that's what I thought.
I spent the majority of Saturday anxiously waiting for the Raptors game to start - despite them being in a hole 2-0. I bypassed the campfire for an old couch and a tube television. Thankfully, that decision paid off and the Raptors clawed back to make the series 2-1. Cue Monday.
While I might have been out of the woods and back into civilization, the Raptors weren't. In their second "must-win" game of this series, the Raptors defended home court as best they could - needing every last DeMar DeRozan jumpshot to seal the deal. It was as intense of a playoff game as you will see this postseason. Despite all the hard work the Raptors put in at home, they still have to get a win in Cleveland - a place where they lost by 50 points in Game 1 and 2 combined - if they are to have any chance of advancing to the NBA Finals.
There are plenty of intriguing storylines surrounding this crucial Game 5. How hurt is Kevin Love? Has Kyrie Irving figured out how to play defense? Will Channing Frye continue his hot shooting and burn the Raptors? Will LeBron James try to do it all himself? Will we see the return of Jonas Valanciunas tonight? Can DeRozan and Lowry put up another 30 points each? Can Bismack Biyombo dominate the glass again?
Game 5 should be nothing short of compelling and dramatic, and I have some highly-confident prop picks I want to share with you. Research can only take you so far, and then it is up to gut instinct to pull the trigger. As always, odds and lines are courtesy of Bovada.
Toronto Raptors +4.5 (+260)
While I won't go as far as saying the Raptors are going to win tonight's game, I will say that they are going to show up and fight like they deserve to be in the position they are in. In my opinion, Games 1 and 2 served as a hazing experience for the Raptors, getting blitzed out of the stadium each game. Now that they understand what it takes and they have full confidence in their abilities to actually compete with Cleveland, this trip to Cleveland will be a lot different.
The Raptors did three very important things well in Games 3 and 4, which helped them even the series. They rebounded the ball well - Biyombo was a beast and hauled in an NBA record-tying 26 boards in Game 3. They are packing the paint and forcing the Cleveland shooters to take long jumpshots or contested threes - which almost backfired, but they still got the job done. And lastly, they are focused on stopping LeBron from driving to the rim. That is key considering his outside shooting leaves a lot to be desired. Good LeBron is the player who attacks the rims and finds the open man. Bad LeBron is the one who settles for outside jumpers… which we saw in Game 3 and 4. The Raptors need to stay the course on the defensive end if they want to be successful.
Offensively, the Raptors have things somewhat figured it out. Yes, DeRozan and Lowry have bailed them out a few times already this postseason, but they are playing more cohesively as a half-court unit. They are capitalizing on the weak links in the Cavaliers defense by putting them in pick-and-roll situations and exposing the resulting mismatch. If Kevin Love is able to play, the Raptors will benefit off of his defensive liability. Same deal with Irving covering Lowry. Lowry has been able to get by Irving on numerous occasions leading to drives and buckets - or finding the open man.
Dwane Casey has the right mindset and gameplan to sneak out of Cleveland with a win. And should they fail to win tonight then I fully expect this series to go seven games. This game won't be a blowout. There is too much on the line for the Raptors to no-show.
Pick: Toronto Raptors +4.5 (+260)
Total Team Points - Toronto Raptors
"Over" 93.5 -115, "Under" 93.5 -115
Home-court advantage is huge in the NBA. Teams battle it out all season long - just like in any other major sport - for home court throughout the playoffs. However, I think it holds the most value in the NBA.
Through the first four games of this series, we saw night and day from these two teams. In Cleveland the Cavs were unstoppable and the Raps looked like a deer in headlights. However, north of the border the roles were flipped. Toronto was energized by their crowd and reaped the rewards of their own beds and home-cooked meals. I fully expect the Toronto team of Games 3 and 4 to show up tonight and give the hometown Cavs everything they can handle. This time they won't be shocked or overwhelmed by the moment, and the confidence they have gained should carry them a long way.
From an X's and O's perspective, the Raps need to continue doing what they did in their two wins. They need to attack the rim and get on the offensive glass to produce some second- and third-chance opportunities. Cleveland does not have a certified rim protector like Toronto does. Tristan Thompson is good, but he cramps the Cav's offensive flow when he is on the court, which is why Tyronn Lue decided to go small to start the fourth quarter of Game 4.
If the Cavs decide to play an up-tempo style of game, the Raptors will have their hands full. However, I believe the resurgence of DeRozan and Lowry will help the Raptors keep pace. The all-star backcourt has combined for 119 points over the last two games. If the Raps can get that type of play tonight - and get contributions from DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson - the Raps should break 100.
Pick: "Over" 93.5 -115
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