The Toronto Raptors’ post-season was ended for the second term on the bounce by the Cleveland Cavaliers, suffering a whitewash defeat in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
The Raptors had reached the Conference Finals last season, and although they put in a series of decent performances, Dwane Casey’s men were beaten 4-2 by the Cavs.
Toronto were able to lock down DeMar DeRozan to a long-term deal before the start of the 2016-17 campaign, but did lose center Bismack Biyombo to the Orlando Magic.
However, the club appeared well set to make another charge into the playoffs, with DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry on the roster, while Jonas Valanciunas took another step forward in his development.
The Raptors were able to win 51 of their 82 contests, matching the same record as the second-seed Cavaliers, but due to their inferior performances in the head-to-head against Tyronn Lue’s men they were pushed down into the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Casey’s side had to battle past the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, and despite falling behind twice in the series they managed to advance on a 4-2 scoreline.
In the last playoff clash against the Cavaliers the club were competitive and pushed LeBron James and company all the way. However, on this occasion the Raptors could not match Cavs’ level of play and were swept with relative ease in a 4-0 defeat.
Toronto have made minimal additions in the off-season and with their key players beginning to end the peaks of their careers, Casey’s men will know that their Championship window could be closing in the near future.
The Raptors began their campaign on home soil against the Detroit Pistons and DeRozan ensured that his side got off to a winning start with a 40-point display.
DeRozan put in another fine performance against the Cavaliers, but he was powerless to stop them falling to their first defeat of the campaign.
Toronto and the forward responded to the loss by winning the next three games on the bounce, overcoming the Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards and the Miami Heat.
Casey’s men were faced with the prospect of back-to-back contests against the Golden State Warriors and the Cavs on the road. Although the Raptors put in decent performances, the quality of the two outfits was too much for them to handle, slipping to two losses.
Toronto recovered from their first poor run of the term after losing another two matches, ending November reeling off four games on the bounce, including dominant wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Victories against the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks began December on strong footing, but the Cavs loomed large to end their winning run. Four successive triumphs followed, featuring a 34-pointer from Lowry on the road against the Boston Celtics.
The Raptors appeared to be ending 2016 on a high note with another run of four wins, only for their momentum to be checked by defeats to the Warriors and Phoenix Suns to close out the year.
Momentum Slows Slightly
The new year would begin with a win over the Lakers orchestrated by a dominant 41-point performance by Lowry, but the Raptors were then on a receiving end of a hammering at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
DeRozan and Lowry were outduelled by the Houston Rockets in another defeat to a quality outfit, but the forward responded with a 41-pointer against the Celtics to deliver a victory. Three further wins followed, but then came the Raptors’ worst run of the term, losing five matches on the spin.
February proved to be an up-and-down month for Toronto, suffering five defeats in their opening seven matches of the term, including three on the bounce before the All-Star break.
However, the response was emphatic, with DeRozan leading his team on a four-game winning streak towards the end of the month. They were unable to build on the momentum gained as March looked to be heading the same way as the previous month, with five defeats in eight.
The Raptors secured their playoff place as Serge Ibaka, acquired in a trade, led a victory over the Pistons to kick-start a run of six successive wins. DeRozan scored 42 points in a dramatic overtime triumph against the Chicago Bulls and he continued to operate at a high level to drive his side over the 50-win mark, beating the Cavs on the final day.
Cavaliers Strike Again
As a result of securing the third seed, the Raptors were drawn against the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo put them on the back foot immediately, with a 28-point display at the Air Canada Centre. However, Toronto responded to level the series, securing a narrow in game two.
A poor offensive outing from DeRozan, Lowry and company mustered just 77 points, allowing the Bucks to regain their advantage. That proved to be the low point of the first round for Casey’s men as they bounced back with a brilliant performance get themselves back to parity.
Norman Powell took over game five with a 25-point display to hand the Raptors the lead for the first time, while DeRozan sent his team into the Conference Semi-Finals by leading his team to a three-point win on the road.
Toronto were on the back foot from the off against the Cavs, suffering an 11-point loss in the opener as LeBron dominated. The Raptors were powerless to stop him game two as he put 39 points on the board in a hammering at Quicken Loans Arena.
DeRozan did his utmost in game three to attempt to turn the tide, but not even a 37-pointer could stop Cleveland romping to a comfortable win, while LeBron completed the sweep in game four.
Credit: The Canadian Press
After signing DeRozan to a lucrative contact last off-season, the Raptors made a point of securing the long-term future of Lowry. The point guard penned a three-year $100m deal to remain with the club, while Casey’s men also opted to sign Ibaka to a contract of the same length.
Lowry is in early 30s, while DeRozan and Ibaka are in their late 20s, with their deals suggesting that the Raptors are doing their utmost to cash in on their window. DeRozan has the quality to lead the charge, having notched the fifth-most points in the NBA last season.
Toronto have reached the playoffs for the last four seasons, but as of yet have not advanced to the NBA Finals, despite the talent on their roster.
With Cleveland’s uncertainty over the future of Kyrie Irving, there could be hope for the other contenders in the Eastern Conference to make their surge to end the Cavs’ dominance.
Casey’s men had the edge over the Celtics last term, winning three of their four contests, while they also got the better of the Wizards.
Should the club have the opportunity not to face Cleveland next term then it could be possible that they could knock off the other contenders to win the Eastern Conference, with intriguing odds of 25/126.00+250025.0025.00-0.04 at Bwin.
Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.
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