The Cleveland Cavaliers are heading back to the NBA Finals for a second straight season.
After a Game 6 victory that showed the talent disparity between the Cavs and a good but not great Raptors team, LeBron James and Co. will again try to win it all. The difference this time: The Big Three is fully intact, and the trio is currently firing on all cylinders.
Cleveland @ Toronto: Cavs 113, Raptors 87
The headlines—including the one found here—will rightfully focus on LeBron’s sixth straight NBA Finals appearance, but I’m going to go ahead and give Tyronn Lue the digital ink that he deserves.
In taking over a team that was filled with both egos and questions upon inheriting it from David Blatt, Lue was able to establish himself as a driving presence in a locker room that sorely needed one. Rarely did it look like James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were on the same page last season, but this year was a completely different story. There has been a lot of growth in that locker room, and there is no question that Lue’s influence has played a critical part in this team’s evolution.
Led by James’ 33 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, three 3PM and a steal on 13-of-22 shooting—with just three turnovers—the Cavs were in control of this deciding game long before the final buzzer sounded. When Love (20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four triples) and Irving (30 points, nine assists, three steals, two treys, 12-of-24 FGs) combine with James to score more than 80 points, Cleveland is going to be an incredibly difficult team to beat no matter who stands across the court as the opposition.
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So many people seem to wonder why this version of J.R. Smith couldn’t be a more presence during his tenure with the New York Knicks, but there’s a big difference between being the second option alongside Carmelo Anthony vs. the fourth option on a Cleveland team featuring their trio of All-Star talent. With 15 points and five more makes from behind the arc in the clinching contest, Smith finished the series averaging 11.7 points and 3.0 3-pointers. It will be interesting to watch J.R.’s production in the championship round vs. Klay Thompson or Andre Roberson. Either way, he’s expected to have a better defender against him.
The Raptors battled and clawed inside Jurassic Park in admirable fashion throughout a campaign they should be proud of, but this is a group that’s (too) short on offense as it’s currently constructed.
Kyle Lowry put forth another 35-point performance and left it all on the line with six triples, three boards and three dimes on 11-of-22 from the field, but he had more points than everyone else combined on his team (32) not named DeMar DeRozan in an elimination game. That obviously isn’t a recipe for success, and the Raptors are going to need to do more than re-sign DeRozan in the offseason in order to take the next step.
The noise of DeRozan looking to Los Angeles and possibly joining the Lakers isn’t going to die down, but that doesn’t mean it’s the likelihood so many are painting it to be. While there are obvious connections tying DD to his old stomping grounds and a giant void for Los Angeles to fill in the post-Kobe Bryant era, the Raptors have to be considered the current favorite—assuming the money is equal—to retain the shooting guard given his connections to and history with the franchise. If this DeRozan’s final game in Toronto, he finishes with a good but not great stat line of 20 points, three rebounds, three dimes and four turnovers on 9-of-18 from the floor.
Bismack Biyombo—an unrestricted free agent to be who Toronto will have a near impossible time keeping in Canada—again got the start ahead of Jonas Valanciunas, but it was J.V. who looked like the more productive player (six points, eight rebounds, 17.5 minutes) during his time on the floor. Biyombo had just four points, nine boards, a steal and a block in his 26 minutes, and a minus-25 rating doesn’t help to clean up what was an ugly picture.
This club just got nothing real from its power forward position for most of the season, and it was an obvious Achilles’ heel in the postseason. Patrick Patterson was more or less invisible throughout the playoffs, Cory Joseph isn’t on the team for his offense and DeMarre Carroll (seven points, six rebounds) disappointed in his Toronto go-around. This is a critical summer for the Raptors with so much in the air, and it all starts with the DeRozan Decision that will be monitored intensely this summer.
Around the NBA
- Don’t mess With Juka: Jusuf Nurkic’s father once got into a fight with 14 different people. At 6’10”, 400 lbs., I suppose something like that could be somewhat conceivable.
- Sixers Shuffle?: According to ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chad Ford, the Philadelphia 76ers will shop both Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel in advance of the NBA draft. There can be no assumptions regarding Joel Embiid (foot) because of his injuries, but if I had to move either Noel or Okafor it would definitely be the latter. Boston is certainly an intriguing potential landing spot, and the Celtics have plenty of assets to make it happen.
- Bradley Banks Beal About to Get Paid? Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post reports that the Wizards are prepared to offer Beal a max deal as soon as free agency opens. Paying Beal at that rate is certainly a gamble given his recurring leg injury, but it beats the alternative of watching him walk to another team in an NBA where the demand for talent greatly outweighs its supply.