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    'We the North' heads South as LeBron and Co. deliver another masterclass

    May 4, 2018
    Intensely focused and looking like a guy who would sweat while taking a shower, LeBron James crucified the Raptors by making 19 of 28 field goals on the way to 43 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists. AP    

    CHICAGO - When the final horn blared ending Game Two of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday night (Friday, Manila time), the Toronto Raptors had the glazed look of a boxer who just realized the empty feeling that the fighter on the opposite corner is simply too big, too strong, too good.

    After giving away Game One via a 113-112 overtime thriller, the Raptors turned in a phenomenal Game Two performance in which they shot 54.3 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90.9 percent from the free throw line.

    Normally, this kind of shooting efficiency is adequate enough to disembowel foes. But LeBron James and Kevin Love were anything but normal in Game Two. They were so good they could have overthrown the Canadian parliament.

    Intensely focused and looking like a guy who would sweat while taking a shower, LeBron crucified the Raptors by making 19 of 28 field goals on the way to 43 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists.  

    Love, meanwhile, finally resembled the All-Star who signed a five-year $113 million contract in 2015. He registered 31 points - 21 more than his average this postseason - and 11 boards. He also ate C.J. Miles and DeMar DeRozan alive when both guarded him on defensive switches. 

    As was the case in Game One, the Cavaliers' supporting cast invited themselves to the party. J.R.Smith had 15 points. Jeff Green drilled four 3s and finished with 14 while George Hill contributed 13.

    As a whole, the Cavs offense performed a spellbinding ballet of ball and body movement that resulted in a 59.5 percent field goal shooting and a 42.3 percent clip from beyond the 3-point arc. After a nearly flawless 48 minutes of basketball, it was the Raptors who were left tip-toeing on the edge of a sweep.

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    Toronto had 11 turnovers while Cleveland only had three, tying a playoff record. The Raptors were reckless and careless.The Cavs were quick but not in a hurry, and they protected the ball like it was the Shroud of Turin.

    Fondly dubbed as 'We The North,' Toronto is heading south so fast that failure is inevitable.

    Of the 292 teams that have trailed 2-0 in NBA playoffs history, only 19 survived elimination. LeBron is 21-0 when leading 2-0 while teams who lost their first two home games to start a series, like the Raptors just did, are 4-32.

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      It's not impossible, but the COMELEC has a term for what the Raptors need to accomplish: a statistical improbability.

      In the opening half of Game Two, the Raptors appeared to have exorcised the ghosts of Game One. They led 29-26 after one quarter and enjoyed their biggest lead - 54-45 - at the 4:53 mark of the second quarter when Fred VanVleet sank a 3 off a Delon Wright assist,

      The Raptors, who went 37-4 at the Canada Centre during the regular season and 3-0 against the Washington Wizards in the first round, looked formidable at home. 

      But Cleveland started the third quarter with an 8-0 run followed by an 18-5 spurt that built a 23-point lead. The Raptors called a full timeout twice to stem the bleeding but they didn't really need a huddle, they needed CPR because the Cavs were tearing them to shreds, crushing Toronto's beating heart yet again.

      Raptors head coach Duane Casey had one word to best describe his team's tragic third quarter effort - "discombobulated."

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      DeMar DeRozan had 24 points while Kyle Lowry added 21 and eight assists. Jonas Valanciunas chipped in 16 points and 12 boards. When Toronto's best players gave so much and still fell short, the Raptors have to wonder how much more should they ask?

      Serge Ibaka, a 10-year veteran making $20 million this season. was glued on the bench and played only 12 minutes. In this new text-savvy world it was one of those SMH moments. Shaking My Head.

      I get it, Ibaka missed all five of his shots and coughed up the ball twice, but with his experience I'd like to think that the 6-foot-10, 235-pound bruiser would have acquitted himself better defensively than Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby who were both undressed by LeBron and tallied just eight points in 41 minutes combined.    

      Steve Simmons of The Toronto Sun surveyed the Raptors locker in the nuclear aftermath of Game Two. What he saw was a room "without sound and emotion, without energy or explanation."

      Indeed this series has morphed from the physical to the psychological.

      Toronto has now lost eight straight playoff games to Cleveland since 2016, including five straight at the Air Canada Centre. Although I don't doubt the Raptors' facility to block traumatic experiences from creeping in their confused brains, I also think the Cavs are in their heads too deep to get over them.

      As a psychologist once opined, you can wipe bad memories in your life but some stains never go away.

      That being said, I would like to apologize to all SPIN.ph readers. I picked Cleveland to beat Toronto in six games.

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      I was so wrong, so stupid.

      Cavaliers in four. 

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      Intensely focused and looking like a guy who would sweat while taking a shower, LeBron James crucified the Raptors by making 19 of 28 field goals on the way to 43 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists. AP    
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