The Toronto Raptors are for real. They survived a furious second-half comeback from the Cleveland Cavaliers and held on to win Game 4, 105-99, to even the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.
Kyle Lowry had 35 points and DeMar DeRozan added 32 as the Raptors outplayed the Cavaliers down the stretch after coughing up an 18-point lead.
LeBron James had 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Cavaliers, and Kyrie Irving added 26. Channing Frye added 12 big points off the bench in the loss.
The Raptors led 13-5 early, but once Frye came in, the Cavaliers went on a 15-7 run to get back into the game. The Raptors continued to play well, though, and took a 27-24 lead after one. Lowry poured it on in the second quarter -- he had 15 in the frame and 20 in the first half -- as the Raptors lead grew to 18 at one point and went into the half with a 57-41 lead.
The Cavaliers came out with purpose in the second half and started making some threes. They cut the lead to seven early in the third, but the Raptors continued to have an answer, especially with Bismack Biyombo continuing his dominance in the paint.
The Cavaliers weren't done yet, though. Irving was spectacular in the third, and the Cavaliers cut the lead to nine heading into the fourth.
That's when Cleveland took over. With James and Frye leading the charge while Irving and Kevin Love sat on the bench, the Cavaliers made their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter running a pick-and-roll at the top of the key. They took their first lead at 84-83 with 8:20 left, but the Raptors did trade buckets with the Cavaliers to stay in the game.
After falling behind 96-94, the Raptors went on a 5-0 run to take a three-point lead with 3:23 left. The Raptors came up with two stops and made 2-of-4 free throws to take a 101-96 lead, but Irving hit a three from deep to make it a two-point game. DeRozan answered on the next possession to extend the lead back to four.
Biyombo blocked J.R. Smith on the next possession, then grabbed a huge offensive rebound after a Lowry miss to set up a Lowry bucket with 22.5 seconds left that gave the Raptors a six-point lead that clinched it.
Game 5 is on Wednesday in Cleveland. Here are three things we learned from Game 4:
The good version of the Raptors can be very, very good
After flailing through the first two games of the series, it seemed like the Raptors' Game 3 win was a mere aberration in the Cavaliers' playoff run -- it didn't seem like Biyombo could have another great game or that Irving and Love would struggle. But here we are. With Lowry and DeRozan finally playing well at the same time and Biyombo wreaking havoc on the Cavaliers in the paint, this Raptors squad looks like they can hang. They clogged the paint and attacked Irving and Love defensively. The Cavaliers will certainly make adjustments heading back to Cleveland, but as long as Lowry and DeRozan continue to shine the Raptors have a fighter's chance.
The Raptors dared the Cavaliers to shoot the three -- it worked for only a half
The Cavaliers shot 13-of-19 from inside the arc in the first half -- but they were only 3-of-22 from deep. A lot of the shots were good looks, so it's hard to fault the Cavaliers completely, but many were jacked up off the dribble late in the shot clock. The Raptors did everything in their power to stop the long ball in the first two games in the series, but it allowed the Cavaliers to rip through the lane for easy buckets. By focusing on playing good defense inside the three-point line, the Raptors were finally able to stifle the Cavaliers' potent offense.
The problem for the Raptors, however, was that Cleveland was bound to start making their shots. They went 10-of-22 from deep in the second half. Frye continued his unreal three-point shooting, going 4-of-8 from deep as he single-handedly brought the Cavaliers back into the game in the early moments of the fourth. The Cavaliers rely on the three, and even though they struggled at times they shouldn't stop shooting now.
This series just got interesting
Game 4 was the first close game of the series. With the way the Raptors have played the last two games, Game 5 is no gimme for the Cavaliers. The Raptors showed a lot of fight in this one -- it would have been easy to fade away after coughing up an 18-point lead, but they kept fighting down the stretch. They got stops when they needed them, and Lowry and DeRozan showed up when it counted. Now, they need to show up in Cleveland.