Title: These Aren’t Your Same Old Raptors
Date: January 12, 2018
Original Source: Vice
Synopsis: In my latest for Vice, I wrote about a rousing Raptors blowout of the Cavaliers, an important confidence-builder for their new system.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have done something resembling this before. They’ve looked flawed, vulnerable, and downright disinterested. They’ve struggled defensively. Each April, they’ve found the requisite extra gear to cruise to the Eastern Conference Finals. In consecutive years, that’s included beating the Toronto Raptors, once in a spirited six-game series that didn’t feel that close, and once in a four-game rout. They employ LeBron James, still as terrifying as ever.
As a result, there is some skepticism about what prescriptive value Thursday night’s game has. That game—a historic 133-99 drubbing at the Air Canada Centre that saw the Raptors set a franchise high-water mark for regulation points and James lose by 25 points in consecutive games for the first time ever—has to at least re-raise the questions that were asked in each of the last two winters: Can the Cavs really rebound from being the second-worst defense in the NBA? As the roster ages, do they still possess that extra gear? Can James, still an unassailable MVP candidate, rally this group, kicking and screaming, on his 33-year-old shoulders?
There is a chance the people asking those questions will feel silly once again in April. We’ve been here and done this before. Even earlier this year, Cleveland seemed to take poorly to the chatter after a 5-7 start and railed off 13 wins in a row in response. James deserves the benefit of doubt, always, even if the Raptors tapped him out once in January.