CLEVELAND — Three games into their Eastern Conference semifinal against Cleveland, the Toronto Raptors have yet to find the answer to the Cavaliers.
They came close in Games 1 and 3. If they don’t solve the puzzle in Game 4 on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena, they will have all summer to ponder the problem.
The frustration is they have had their openings.
“All three games have presented different plays that would have to be done at certain points of the game to get over the hump,” veteran C.J. Miles said prior to Monday morning’s shootaround. “We see them. It’s not’s like there’s no door to get out of the room.”
It’s headache-causing, he added.
“The cause of lack of sleep at night when you can replay the game and see so many turning points. It’s easy in hindsight to say that play changes everything. You never know. But you always think about the fact that you want to give yourself the best shot every single night and there’s some plays that didn’t always give us the best shot. In certain situations, we didn’t do exactly what we needed to do.”
Plus Toronto has yet to come out with all weapons firing for 48 minutes.
Guard Fred VanVleet and coach Dwane Casey both returned to what has become a familiar theme since Saturday’s 105-103 loss.
“I think we’ve just got to go out here and keep fighting, keep scratching and clawing,” said VanVleet, who made his first career start in Game 3.
“I don’t know what that means, to be honest,” he added. “But we’ve been in all three games, we’ve had chances to win pretty much all three games, being up in some of the games. We’re right there, we’re competing. We’ve just got to do a little bit more, make a couple more plays and I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Said Casey: “I haven’t given up on our team. I think we have a group of guys that are warriors. And I know they’re going to bounce back. As far as the fight, I love what we did the other night.”
Toronto did rally to tie the game with eight seconds remaining, only to be put to the sword by LeBron James’ off-balance buzzer-beater from 10 feet out. It’s a highlight that has been replayed endlessly on sports TV ever since, along with pundits discussing how Cleveland owns Toronto in the playoffs.
“I’ve seen the play (on TV) obviously but I’m not watching SportCentre all night for those type of reasons right there,” said VanVleet.
This could mark the third straight season that the Cavs eliminate the Raptors.
Going into Monday’s contest, Cleveland had won nine straight playoff games — and 14 of its last 16 games (regular and post-season) — against Toronto. Cleveland was also 11-1 at Quicken Loans Arena since December 2014.
History is not on Toronto’s side. Teams that trail 3-0 in a best-of-seven series are 0-129 in the NBA.
Of those 129, 79 were swept (61.2 per cent), 37 extended the series to five games (28.7 per cent), 10 went six games (7.8 per cent) and only three forced a Game 7 (2.3 per cent).
Teams that trail 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have forced a Game 7 three times.
Cleveland is 9-0 when up 3-0 in a series. Toronto is 0-2 all-time when it falls behind 0-3 (swept in 2015 by Washington and 2017 by Cleveland).
A win and the Cavs advance to the Eastern Conference final for the fourth straight season and the eighth time in franchise history (1976, 1992, 2007, 2009, 2015, 2016, 2017).
Turnovers have been key in the series with the Raptors outscored 52-19 (minus-33) on points off turnovers through three games.