2. The Raptors weren’t physical.
There’s one thing that must be understood: there is a massive difference between the environment and feel of a regular season game and a playoff game. The difference mainly resides in the feel and the attitude that is brought to each game. Each player is playing like it’s life or death with everything on the line. Every possession should be played with peak aggressiveness on offense and defense.
That is, unless the team who’s playing is the Raptors. With lack of a better term, the Raptors are soft and they’ve been mostly soft for a few years now. Why is this term being used to describe the Raptors? The answer is that the Raptors consistently get pushed around in the playoffs by teams who simply want it more and are willing to be more aggressive.
A very recent example of this can be seen just one series ago. If the majority thought that the Cavs were the only ones who had a hard term against ‘an inferior opponent’ then they definitely missed the debacle in the Raptor’s first round. The Raptors nearly went into a seven-game series with the EIGHT SEED Washington Wizards. The Wizards were not as bad as eight seeds of recent vintage, but they were not a particularly great squad, either.
The Raptors got a tough challenge which was expected considering some trash talk from the Wizards before the series. The Wizards didn’t have trouble backing up that talk either considering how it’s well known around the NBA that the Raptors can easily be bullied physically in the playoffs.
Looking back, it should have been expected that the Cavs would bring that same energy to bully the Raptors as they have before and as the Wizards almost did. However, it was completely unknown how each team was going to approach the series starting in game one.
It was all depending on how the Raptors decided to attack the Cavs and find advantages in match ups. The Cavs had also just played a very long and tenuous series which was thought to have taken a toll on the team while the Raptors had home court.
This brings up another subject which entails a thought about how many people previewed the Cavs and Raptors series. Having an analysis that is almost completely predicated on trying to assume the stamina of a team instead of actually diving into match ups and relevant statistics is just lazy.
These NBA players are professional athletes who have trained their whole lives for these moments and also have professional trainers that will have them ready regardless. The player’s real abilities and the team’s ability to match up with the upcoming opponent are the real deciding factors.
In the Cavs’ first round series, the Pacers were much more physical which allowed them to mess with the Cavs more. The Raptors have never had a physical team other than when they had Bismack Biyombo back in 2016 who was a physical big man that drove a toughness mentality into the their squad. They actually won two games in that series until the Cavs finally eliminated them in game six.
Then, the Raptors gave Biyombo away which meant their toughness quickly evaporated. The team also lost P.J. Tucker and DeMarre Carroll from last season who were tough defenders. The Raptors were left with a team that definitely did not intimidate LeBron and the Cavs.