Monday 11 December 2017 / 08:29 PM

RAPTORS AREN’T READY FOR THIS STAGE

In a game billed to be the coming of age game for the Toronto Raptors, and the pressure game for the Cleveland Cavaliers, only one team answered the bell.

The other just fell, with their key pieces not showing for the third time in this series, and unsurprisingly, their third loss in this series.

Before the Raptors could even get settled in in Game 5, the Cavaliers jumped out to a 20-point lead. Before they could respond, the lead had grown to 30 – and that was just before halftime. The Raptors offered no response, no fight, and that lead would grow to 40 in the fourth quarter, as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan watched their team from the bench, each looking listless and defeated, and both again falling well short of what they needed to provide their team to challenge the Cavaliers.

The end result: a 116-78 rout that handed the Cavs a 3-2 series lead.

The Raptors’ struggles in these moments are well documented, but this game was a new level for the side, whose resolve in the face on pressure hasn’t exactly been the best in the league up until now. I’ve touched previously on the Raptors’ incompetency in previous years, and even their struggles in earlier rounds. But this game showed just how far the Raptors are from real contention, and the holes this team has.

The struggles for the Raptors on the road have been mind-numbing thus far. Kyle Lowry seemingly leaves his talents at the Canadian border. He shows why he was an All-Star in the confines of Canada, but in the United States this season, Lowry has been awful. He’s been so bad on the road that he’s put his team in positions where they have to rely on the ball-handling and playmaking of DeMar DeRozan, whose shooting has been just as bad as Lowry’s overall play.

On the road in this series, the Raptors’ turnovers are nearly double than at home. Their field-goal percentage and their three-point shooting have been abysmal in Cleveland, close to 10 points worse in each game than the two in Toronto.

The craziest part of the Raptors’ Game 5 performance is that they seemed to have totally forgotten what had made them so dominant in the preceding two games at home, and reverted back to the same broken strategy that got them stomped in the opening two clashes.

The Raptors bodied the Cavs in Toronto, bullying the glass and allowing Cleveland to shoot as many threes as they wanted. The put their focus on keeping LeBron James and company out of the paint, and forcing jump shots – especially from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – as opposed to letting them dictate tempo on the glass.

The Raptors used center Bismack Biyombo to champion this change, keeping him in the paint and using Patrick Patterson to rotate with the mobile players like James and Love on screens and pick-and-rolls. Biyombo responded with huge rebounding numbers and blocks, relishing his roll as a help defender. Even the turnover battle was stressed by Toronto, making conservative passes and not forcing, being careful not to fuel Cleveland’s fast break and up-tempo offense.

Literally all of that was tossed out the window in Game 5. Biyombo was attacked early on, and Toronto never responded with help defense or extra presence in the paint. They instead left him alone, which forced Biyombo into early foul trouble, and easy layups and short jumpers for the Cavaliers to get rolling early. Luis Scola was abysmal on defense, and played long stretches over Patterson, even when seeing a huge deficit.

The Raptors saw a -20 rebounding disadvantage in Game 5, a drastic change in what they were used to. DeRozan took bad shots when he made any effort on offense, and Lowry disappeared again. Lowry himself turned the ball over five times.

Cleveland was smothering in this game, and most certainly put the Raptors on life support. The Raptors aren’t ready to play away from home, and Lowry and DeRozan don’t appear ready for the primetime or the lights.

In Toronto, the Raptors look like one of the best teams in the NBA, with Lowry and DeRozan looking only a small step below Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and Biyombo looking like a young Dikembe Mutombo. But away from their familiar surroundings, the Raptors look awful, with nearly everything they do well turning into a weakness in the grandest of ways.

The Raptors have had a great season and taken some steps that are necessary to become a serious contender.

But they aren’t ready for this moment. And from the looks of this game, they aren’t even close.

[YouTube – Ximo Pierto Final]

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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