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Serge Ibaka’s Toronto Raptors Fall Twice to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers as Game 3 Goes to Toronto

The opener of the Eastern Conference semifinal between Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers was nothing short of history repeating itself.

Notably, Toronto has not won a Game 1 in the NBA Playoffs for the fourth season in a row with their only win coming in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Here again, and the Cavs team is not backing down in its attempt to secure another NBA Championship final as they looked fresh and well rested in Game 1 & 2 since eliminating Indiana Pacers on April 23.

A repeat of last season’s Finals, the Raptors shook off a resilient Milwaukee Bucks to book a rematch with the Cavs whose form proved too strong for Serge Ibaka’s side with the latter losing both games, 105-116 and 103-125 respectively.

LeBron James picked up from Game 1 where he scored 35 points with 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block and could have jokingly sipped on a beer in that game to toss to his fine form.

Game 2, James added 39 points to his career with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the career playoff scoring list and now trails only Michael Jordan.

Of course, there is not forgetting the powerful Cavs trio combination of James, Kylie Irving, and Kevin Love. Irving and Love combined in Game 2 to give 22 and 9 points while in Game 1, they each tallied 24 and 18 points, respectively.

For Toronto, the acquisition of Ibaka came with it a much needed added value and different playoff experience for the Raptors whose supporting cast has improved over the years to hopefully take a Finals win.

Ibaka averaged 12.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2.3 blocks in the Raptors’ first-round series victory over Milwaukee.

“Just a different dynamic,” Kevin Love said of Ibaka before Game 1. “Definitely shooters with both him and (Patrick) Patterson out there.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”He (Ibaka) brings a ton of energy. Played really well in Round 1, so he just gives them a whole different look and a guy has a ton of playoff experience coming from Oklahoma City.[/perfectpullquote]

“Obviously getting traded from Orlando (Magic in February), but all his playoff experience being there and playing in a lot of big games. He really helps them.”

In the last two games against Cleveland, the 27-year-old tallied 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in Game 1 in addition to his 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block in Game 2.

“Adds a veteran, for one, a guy that has experience, Finals experience as well,” James said last week of Ibaka who he defeated when at Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals, while the former was in Miami Heat.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”And also a guy who can stretch the floor and create, also protect the rim at times, It definitely helped them out. He (Ibaka) was a good piece for them.”[/perfectpullquote]

But Raptors whose defense was stretched by an on-form shooting and attacking Cleveland side will need to dig deeper going into Game 3 in Toronto in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Jonas Valanciunas’ Game 2 stats with 23 points to top Toronto, was an additional relief despite coming off the bench but DeMar DeRozan who finished with only 5 points, was a different player from the DeRozan against the Bucks.

Kyle Lowry shook off a sprained ankle to finish with 20 points but it still was not enough to keep up with James’ spear heading offense.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey switched it up a little in Game 2 and started with a smaller lineup which changed Ibaka from his natural power forward position to center, opening the floor on offense with more ball handlers.

The problem, however, came when Raptors couldn’t contain James in defense who bullied his way to 39 points while carrying a complimentary team also contributing effectively well on the scoresheet.

A win for Toronto is as skeptical as the Raptors taking the series to a decisive Game 7 even though they will have home court advantage in the next two games.

Nevertheless, the unleashing of Ibaka’s prowess as a prominent defender could bring some relief for the Raptors who will look to avoid a sweep by the Cavs, especially if they manage home court advantage wins.

Will coach Casey change his starting lineup to contain Cleveland’s offense or will he insist on a smaller group to lead Toronto’s offense?

Game 3 is on Friday night at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, where the Raptors will have the crowd on their side.




Featured photo: Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, right, works against Toronto Raptors’ P.J. Tucker, left, and Serge Ibaka during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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