Just two games now separate the Cavaliers and Raptors atop the Eastern Conference standings, as Kyle Lowry’s game-winner completed Toronto’s 14-point comeback effort and clinched the regular-season series on Friday night.
After the teams traded punches throughout the fourth quarter, Lowry’s stepback jumper with 3.8 seconds remaining punctuated a career-high, 43-point performance and a 99–97 Raptors win.
Lowry scored 15 of Toronto’s 31 fourth-quarter points. The Raptors outscored the Cavaliers by 13 in the final frame, largely due to Cleveland’s inability to slow Skinny Lowry. The All-Star also added nine assists, five rebounds and four steals in 43 minutes.
Lowry’s incredible 15-of-20 shooting display once again exposed the Cavs’ biggest weakness: containing electric opposing point guards. After all, it was Matthew Dellavedova who fell victim to Lowry’s clutchness on Friday, as Kyrie Irving sat on Tyronn Lue’s bench during the game’s most crucial possession.
As equally dangerous as Irving is with the ball in his hands, his defensive struggles haven’t been nearly as criticized as Kevin Love’s this season. Further plaguing the Cavs, Dellavedova’s scrappiness far outweighs his true defensive abilities as well.
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Lowry scored 24 points, dished 10 dimes and added four rebounds when the two teams last met on Jan. 4. He posted 27-6-3 on Cleveland in their first contest back on Nov. 25. And as the league’s inconceivable depth at the point guard position continues to innovate the game, the Cavs’ biggest championship competitors all employ lead ball handlers with tantalizing playmaking ability.
At this juncture, Cleveland appears on a collision course with either Lowry’s 39–18 Raptors or Isaiah Thomas’s Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. If the Cavs can advance, either Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs and reigning MVP Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors will likely await them in the Finals.
Cleveland has changed its coach, flipped Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye and have started engaging Kevin Love more consistently on offense. But the Cavaliers, at 41–16, must figure out how to defend rival point guards if they hope to end Cleveland’s title drought.