NBA Playoffs: 5 Takeaways From Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals

NBA Playoffs: 5 Takeaways From Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals

LeBron James drives to the basket in the Eastern Conference Finals. | Jason Miller/Getty Images

Although the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs pits the first seed against the second, most folks believe the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to steamroll the Toronto Raptors. We didn’t think it’d be quite that one-sided, but we did expect the Cavs to come out of the East for the second straight season. After watching Game 1 on Tuesday, we may have to rethink our original assessment.

The first game of the series wasn’t just a beatdown, it was a massacre. The Cavaliers shot 55.4% from the field and decimated the visiting team 115-84, improving their postseason mark to a perfect 9-0. Of course, just so you know, LeBron James and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers are hardly satisfied. “I think don’t think we have complacency in our minds,” said James. “We have a goal, and our goal is not nine wins. I’ve won nine games before. I’ve won 14 games before. We will face some adversity.”

We love competition. Therefore, we hope the Cavs will be forced to overcome a bit of adversity. However, that was not the case in Game 1. It was quite the opposite in fact. See for yourselves.

1. Cavs controlled the glass

NBA Playoffs: 5 Takeaways From Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals

Raptors and Cavaliers fight for the loose ball in the Eastern Conference Finals. | Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Cavaliers are a more talented group than the Raptors. It’s hard to argue against it. Yet, they also came out in Game 1 and asserted themselves right off the bat. Cleveland was active and aggressive and made its presence known. And this was no more evident than in the overall disparity in rebounding.

Not only did the Cavaliers completely dominate the Raptors on the glass (the total rebounding numbers were 54-35 in the Cavaliers’ favor), but once you strip out team rebounds (assessed on out of bounds plays and the like), the actual numbers are even more stark: The Raptors grabbed just 23 boards to Cleveland’s 45. For the record, this included an advantage in offensive rebounding, where the Cavs outclassed Toronto 10-4. Let’s be real, this is no way to play against the reigning Eastern Conference champs.

2. Raptors really miss Jonas Valanciunas

Before suffering a right ankle sprain during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was playing like an absolute beast. In just under 34 minutes a night, the 23-year-old was averaging 18.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 64.9% from the field. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played since the injury and is expected to miss Game 2 of the ECF as well.

This is a monumental blow for Toronto. It’s hard enough to defeat Cleveland when you’re playing at full strength. Trying to do so while missing a key player is just not fair. This is what the Raptors are attempting to do. And it shows.

3. Lazy D against LeBron

James is used to putting up big numbers in the postseason. What he’s not used to, however, is being allowed to do most of his work in the paint. The Raptors needed to body James; get more physical with the superstar. Someone probably should’ve told them that. James scored 24 points on 84.6% shooting — 11 for 13 — with all of his buckets coming in the paint. If you’re the Raptors, this is completely inexcusable. If you’re James, keep it up until they stop you. 

4. Where’s the help in the paint?

NBA Playoffs: 5 Takeaways From Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals

Iman Shumpert flies for the dunk. | Jason Miller/Getty Images

Speaking of scoring in the paint, it wasn’t just James who went to work. The rest of the Cavs had a field day as well. Just how bad was it? We’re so glad you asked. The Toronto Raptors managed to score 36 of their points in the paint. The Cavaliers, well, they put up 56. Hopefully the Raptors are able to fix this by Game 2. If not, their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals will be all “short” and no “sweet.”

5. Kyrie Irving is unguardable

We all know that Kyrie Irving has one of the best handles in the National Basketball Association. Yet, sometimes we forget just how good he is at making the opposition look foolish. The Cavs point guard has a smooth jumper, an uncanny ability to finish at the rim, and confidence for days. And in Game 1, the Raptors had no answer for him.

Irving led all scorers with 27 points — on 11 of 17 shooting — while adding five assists, two rebounds, and two steals for good measure. He was the best player on the floor for most of the night. And when your team consists of players like James and Kevin Love, that’s saying something. To the Raptors, best of luck trying to contain him for the rest of the series. You’re going to need it.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com, and NBA.com.

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