Raptor Serge Ibaka reacts while LeBron James celebrates following his game-ending buzzer beater off the glass to win Game 3 for the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Saturday night.

Toronto Raptors are making headlines but not for the right reasons in their quest to win the team’s first NBA Championship.

General Manager Masai Ujiri just got fined for his utterances to officials after Game 3 in Raptors semifinal series against Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Toronto has become the subject of internet memes as images of Cavaliers Forward LeBron James standing on photos of the city has been splashed all over. Raptors mantra “We the North” has been changed to “He-LeBron- the North” following James’ heroics in the ongoing series.

Like Indiana Pacers, Raptors name will be mentioned as a footnote in the ultimate highlight reel of LeBron when his NBA career comes to an end.

The Chosen One’s game winning shot in Game 3 to seal a 105-103 win for Cleveland is definitely one for the record books as the difficult shot leaves Cleveland needing another win to complete a sweep.

Toronto should expect worse treatment from the outside world once that happens especially coming into this season’s playoffs as the best team in the Eastern Conference and totting a new found playbook that addresses the over dependence on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

After three semifinal games, Toronto is winless and faces a major possibility of exiting the postseason quite early for their caliber.

That is disappointing but to the team’s credit, they have been competitive in this series and could have easily sent the Cavs through another long series.

As a frontrunner for Coach of the Year Award, Raptors Head Coach Dwayne Casey is leading the feistiness and competitive drive in his side. Casey is trying really hard to get past James’ supernova performances every time he encounters the Canadian team. In the past regular season, LeBron averaged 36 points in four games against Raptors.

In the playoff first round series against Washington Wizards, Casey drew an analogy of a duck in water to describe his calm demeanor on the surface but constant nerves underneath.

Van Vleet

He is usually calm unless his player’s shot isn’t overturned allowing the opposing team score a three pointer on the other end. The winless mark from Toronto is not entirely a true reflection of his efforts in preventing a winless run thus far in the series.

First of all, Casey tweaked his starting unit to pressure Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 more than they did in the two previous games. Dropping an ineffective 6 foot 10 inch Serge Ibaka and replacing him with 6 foot 3 Guard Fred Van Vleet meant Toronto went with a small line up to open the game. By going small, Casey aimed at improving Raptors pace in the game same way Indiana did and caused Cavs major problems in the first round. Placing Ibaka on the bench is a big call since the Spaniard is a $20 million man who has a lot of playoffs experiences from his run with Oklahoma City Thunder.

Talking of big Dwayne Casey calls, none came any bigger than planting star DeRozan on the bench for long stretches in the final quarter. DeRozan ended the game with just eight points after a poor night for the multiple All Star player. Unlike most coaches who would keep an established guy like DeRozan in the game despite an off night, Casey made the big call to keep him out of the game which was tied at 103 before James rose to the occasion to score a tough jump shot. Recognizing the degree of difficulty in banking the shot, James advised fans not to try it at home.

McConell’s replacement Ben Simmons scored just a point in Sixers Game 2 loss to Boston.

Thirdly, Casey played his hot hands as long as they could avoid going cold irrespective of the player’s status in the team. This is quite connected to the second point regarding DeMar DeRozan’s time on the bench and Ibaka getting dropped to the second unit. Philadelphia Sixers Coach Brett Brown surely paid for going against Casey’s move by taking off TJ McConnell and replacing him with starting Guard Ben Simmons who went on to score just a point to close out a frustrating Game 2. McConnell scored eight points and added five assists in 17 minutes. The reliable Simmons was off his double double mark and has been showing habits largely associated with first year players lately in the playoffs.

The change coincided with Boston Celtics remarkable 22 point turn around to clinch Game 2 with a 108-103 win. Coaches often take blame for team failures in the postseason but in Dwayne Casey’s case, Raptors inevitable demise to James and Cleveland Cavaliers is no fault of his.

By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter


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