Published On: Wed, May 2nd, 2018

The Raptors have no room for error when trying to dethrone King James

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TORONTO – In the aftermath of a stunning overtime defeat for the top-seeded Raptors on Tuesday, much will be made of the team’s history of postseason disappointments and playoff failures repeating themselves. Yet despite an almost unprecedented loss for the home side, Cleveland’s Game 1 win in Toronto was less about the “same old Raptors” narrative as it was about how small the margin for error is against a LeBron James-led team.

The Raptors have proven to be the better side for an almost 90-game sample, and very much appeared the deeper, more rested team they were for large stretches of Game 1. But no team outside of The Bay area or perhaps Houston is good enough to survive allowing James to stay within striking distance for too long.

Despite missing their last 11 shots of regulation, the Raptors actually generated some good looks off of sharp offense on a fair number of those bricks. Miss enough of those looks, however, lose a shooter like Kyle Korver on a flurry of defensive breakdowns throughout the game, botch enough of what seemed a plethora of tip-ins in the dying seconds, and you suddenly find yourself in a one-possession slugfest with the best player of his generation.

That doesn’t tend to go well for the team that doesn’t employ James.

“We know we’ve got the best closer,” Korver said of James after Game 1. “(We’re) thinking, ‘if we can keep it close to the end, he’s going to take over and he’s going to make plays.'”

“We were fortunate, though,” Korver added. “They had some tip-ins at the end there. They had a couple looks. We had some looks as well. Overall, we feel good about the win, but I think we were also very fortunate.”

Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue was even more direct in the aftermath of his team’s series-opening victory.

“I think considering the circumstances, we definitely stole one,” Lue told reporters in his postgame news conference. “I don’t think we played our best game, and I think they know that as well. We didn’t play extremely well, but to come in and beat a good team like Toronto on their floor, it does feel like we stole one.”

The reality of Lue’s statements has to sting for the Raptors. Each of their previous eight playoff losses to James’ Cavs over the last two years has been a stark reminder of how far away they were. Tuesday’s loss was about them not putting away an inferior team when they had the chance, allowing the game to be decided with the ball in the hands of a basketball cheat code down the stretch.

“Having the best player in the game is obviously a luxury,” Kevin Love told theScore through a laugh in the Air Canada Centre’s visiting locker room. “We know going down the stretch that if we set good screens, he’s going to make plays, and we have a bunch of guys that are able to knocks shots down.”

James finished with 26 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds, two blocks, and a steal, with only one turnover in his 46:56 of floor time, and played a key role in neutralizing Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry in crunch time, but the scary part for the Raptors is that they haven’t even been hit with the king’s best punch (James shot 12-of-30), which makes dropping a winnable Game 1 even more painful to swallow.

“We knew we were going to get their best shot today. They knew we didn’t have much rest, they knew we didn’t have much preparation, they’ve kind of been waiting around us,” James said after Game 1. “For me personally, probably one of my worst games of the season. Just trying to make things happen at the right time. They make a run, try to get a couple stops in a row and make a couple shots. Kyle Korver was able to do that a couple times when they made runs. Then we got timely stops.

“And then you get to a one-possession, two-possession game, for me personally, that’s what I like the most. I was able to make a couple shots in the post, and then overtime, and we just took off from there.”

There’s a viral meme to be found on NBA Twitter about LeBron not understanding the concept of playing for home court advantage all season when he can simply steal it in 48 minutes of basketball. While the graphic is obviously a joke, it’s hilarity – or savagery, if you’re a Raptors fan – is rooted in its realism.

The Raptors have been the better, more consistent team all season, and they looked and played the part for most of Game 1. Miss a few gimmes here, however, fall asleep for a couple of defensive possessions there, and you suddenly look up 48 minutes later – or in this case, 53 minutes later – and realize you’re down 1-0, now needing to win four of six against LeBron James, in a series in which he now owns home court.

As Omar Little famously quipped, you come at the King, you best not miss.

(Photos courtesy Getty Images)

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