The Canadian Press
CLEVELAND–After a season to remember, the Toronto Raptors disappeared last night in a playoff series to forget–put to the sword yet again by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In a must-win game with their season on the line, the Raptors were eviscerated. LeBron James and the Cavaliers had their way in a 128-93 blowout win to complete a four-game sweep of their Eastern Conference semi-final.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey, who somehow has become both a candidate for coach-of-the-year and one facing the firing line, described his team as drained and “emotionally drunk” after close losses in Games 1 and 3.
When push came to shove last night, the Cavaliers “played the way a championship team needs to play. And we didn’t after the first quarter,” he added.
Casey’s post-game words were damning.
“I thought our guys would come in and compete harder,” he remarked.
“It’s disappointing,” Casey admitted. “Because you want to go out fighting, scratching, clawing with your best effort. . . .
“But you don’t want to go down that way, let go of the rope.”
It was an embarrassing ending to a series in which Toronto had its chances despite its short time span.
While the Raptors were blown out 128-110 in Game 2, they had plenty of chances to win Game 1–a 113-12 overtime loss during which the Cavaliers never led in regulation time.
And in Game 3, they rallied to tie the game at 103-103 before James’ memorable off-balance buzzer-beater.
There was no drama last night as Cleveland led by four after the first quarter, 16 at the half, and 28 after three.
A dour DeMar DeRozan, who had just eight points in Game 3 and was benched in the fourth quarter, took no solace from the slender margins of playoff basketball.
“It’s life,” said the Raptors’ guard. “You dwell on what should have happened, what could have happened in life, you’ll drive yourself crazy.
“The fact of the matter is we’re out, we’re done,” he added.
“We’ve got to get back to reality, come tomorrow, work our butt off this summer, and get ready for the next stage.”
Fellow all-star Kyle Lowry offered little from the podium–a baseball cap jammed low over his eyes as DeRozan fielded questions.
DeRozan’s miserable series continued last night as he was ejected for a flagrant foul-2 with 23 seconds left in the third for catching Jordan Clarkson, who was soaring to the basket, on the head with his arm.
He finished with 13 points on five-of-11 shooting.
“We wanted to take away DeRozan and we wanted to take away their bench,” said Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue.
“I think we did that in this series.”
Lue said playing James with the Cavs’ second unit helped negate the Toronto bench.
James had 29 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds and showed off more than few party tricks with Cleveland turning the screw on the Raptors as the game wore on.
He had 15 points in the third quarter to hammer the nail into the Toronto coffin. Kevin Love added 23.
Jonas Valanciunas led Toronto with 18 points. C.J. Miles had 13 while Lowry had five.
Toronto becomes the first top seed to be swept prior to the conference final since the NBA switched to a 16-team playoff format in 1984.
The Raptors’ so-called culture reset–sharing the ball and firing three-pointers–resulted in a franchise record 59 wins, second only to Houston’s 65.
But it was the same old story in the post-season with no answers for James and the Cavaliers.
Cleveland swept Toronto in the Eastern semi-finals last season and won 4-2 in the East final in 2016.
The Cavs advance to the Eastern Conference final for the fourth-straight season and the eighth time in franchise history.
They will face either Boston or Philadelphia, who staved off elimination with a 103-92 win last night.
Boston still leads that series 3-1.
History was not on Toronto’s side last night. Teams that trail 3-0 in a best-of-seven series are now 0-130 in the NBA.
Despite the record regular-season showing, Casey knew tougher times lay ahead.
“It’s gratification but you’re not satisfied, that’s the way I like to put it,” he said when the Raptors clinched first place in the East with three games remaining.
“We haven’t got to where our ultimate goal is.”
They still haven’t, which means a harsh spotlight may shine on Casey.