The Toronto Raptors took the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers to six games in the Eastern Conference finals last year, but the number of games in the series probably overstates how competitive it was, given that Cleveland outscored Toronto by 93 points and LeBron James had basically scoffed at the notion that his team had faced anything resembling an adverse situation on account of the Raptors.
The two teams will meet again, a round earlier, this postseason, with their East semi set to tip off Monday night. But the Raptors are a different team this time around, most notably at the power forward spot. They started Luis Scola there last year. On Monday, it'll be Serge Ibaka, who was acquired from the Orlando Magic in a midseason trade.
The Cavs didn't get a chance to see Ibaka in Raptors uniform during the regular season - the teams' first three meetings came before the trade, and starters on both sides rested for the fourth - but they know he'll help the Raptors present a new kind of challenge.
"Just a different dynamic," Cavs power forward Kevin Love said of Ibaka's impact, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "Definitely shooters with both him and (Patrick) Patterson out there. He brings a ton of energy. Played really well in round one, so he just gives them a whole different look and a guy who has a ton of playoff experience coming from Oklahoma City. Obviously getting traded from Orlando, but all his playoff experience being there and playing in a lot of big games. He really helps them."
Indeed, on top of his defensive versatility and floor-spacing ability from the four or five spot, Ibaka is one of just two players on the Raptors' roster (along with Cory Joseph) to have played in the NBA Finals. According to James, that experience, as much as anything, should come in handy.
"Adds a veteran, for one, a guy that has experience, Finals experience as well," James said. "And also a guy who can stretch the floor and create, also protect the rim at times. It definitely helped them out, was a good piece for them."