Casey: 'Our pride is on the line' in Game 4 as Raptors look to avoid sweep
CLEVELAND -- The Toronto Raptors have seen this story before. They know it doesn't end well, nor can they be confident in writing a different ending.
The Raptors are in a 3-0 hole to the Cleveland Cavaliers in this Eastern Conference semifinal series. They were in the same situation at this time a year ago and the Cavs busted out the brooms.
The closet door is wide open again and LeBron James is rummaging around. The Cavs have never lost Game 4 of a series in which they won the first three games.
"We have one more game, our pride is on the line, basically our season is on the line," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
The Raptors could have more than just the end of the season riding on Game 4, which is Monday in Cleveland. Toronto changed its entire offense to shoot more 3-pointers and move the ball after last year's sweep by Cleveland, and were the only team during the regular season to finish in the top five on offense and defense.
But another playoff disappointment at the hands of James -- remember, the Cavs took the 2016 conference finals from Toronto in six games, in a series that wasn't nearly as close -- and it could be time to change personnel.
Does Casey go? Could the Raptors trade DeMar DeRozan, one of their two All-Stars who has struggled in this series?
It's all on the table.
While history suggests the Raptors' deficit in this series is basically insurmountable, the Cavs won two games by a combined three points. They blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3 but won it on James' stunning bank shot while falling away from the hoop as time expired.
"It's actually more of a difficult shot if you miss, even though you're going to overtime because that momentum can carry them too, they feel good about themselves," James said. "It's better just kinda if you can to get it over with."
Same goes for the series. The Cavs were pushed to the brink in the first round by the Indiana Pacers, needing a seventh game to advance from a series in which they were outscored overall.
James has been brilliant in the postseason (34.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 8.8 assists per game) -- his 348 points through 10 playoff games are the most since Michael Jordan scored 354 through 10 postseason games in 1992. But James is averaging 41.7 minutes per game and played all 82 regular-season games.
He could use the rest. The earliest the Eastern Conference finals could start is Sunday.
"It's a tough game because it's either win or go home for the team down 3-0," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who has never lost a second-round playoff game in three seasons as coach. "They're going to come out swinging like they did last night and when you have a team with a lot of pride that's well coached they're not just going to give in. They're going to do everything they can to try to win the game and get back to Toronto.
"We understand that and we just have to come out with the right mindset and match their intensity early and try to close it out if we can."
The Raptors made Game 3 close behind the efforts of Kyle Lowry, who scored 15 of his 27 during the comeback. DeRozan was just 3 of 12 for eight points in the game and was on the bench for the entire Toronto comeback.
Casey also made a lineup change in Game 3, inserting a third guard (Fred VanVleet) for Serge Ibaka. The matchup changes resulted in Cavs role players JR Smith and Tristan Thompson both being shut out from scoring, the Raptors believe.
Lue said Smith was sick on Saturday and shouldn't have played.
"We got what we wanted," Casey said. "It was a matchup situation we were trying to get with JR Smith and we did. Also, too, it was done with Tristan Thompson in mind, getting Serge in to go against him.
"I thought Serge came in and played his heart out. He gave us a good block there at the end and he made some good buckets. He just did what we needed to do to accomplish what we needed to accomplish."