The Toronto Raptors just can’t get past LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even in a down year for the Cavs and one where the Raptors learned to share the ball, it’s just not happening.
Yet another King James game-winner has the top seed in the Eastern Conference fully on the ropes, with game four in Cleveland perhaps serving as one last gasp. Cleveland is almost certainly stealing this round two series after working their way to a 3-0 lead, but bettors need to wonder if the Raptors are going to mail it in or actually fight for this thing.
That makes tonight’s game four at the Quicken Loans Arena incredibly difficult to gauge. The Cavs open as -5.5 favorites, as they can kill this series with a win tonight on their home floor.
LeBron James has nailed two clutch shots in this series, while the Cavs whipped Toronto in game two. The Raptors have not looked great in this series, but they look like a solid value on the surface (+5.5) at top NBA betting sites like Bovada and could quickly change the tone of this series if they snag a win and shift this series back to Air Canada Centre.
However, the mental hurdle of taking down the Cavs has to be steep at this point. The Cavs have had an answer for the Raptors every step of the way, while LeBron James has simply been unstoppable in this series, piling on 26, 43 and 38 points in the first three contests.
With Cleveland’s supporting cast slowly coming around in this series, the Cavs are inch by inch forming back into a viable contender to make it back to the NBA Finals.
That delivers two very interesting narratives here; bet against the Raptors to fend off the broom or go against King James at home. Let’s see which is the best side to take for Monday night’s showdown in Ohio:
Toronto Raptors (+5.5, -110) @ Cleveland Cavaliers (-5.5, -110) Total: 214 (-105/-115)
I think Toronto’s unraveling comes from a wound being opened up in game one. They had the Cavs on the ropes and missed repeated chances to win the game in the waning seconds. The game went into overtime and from there Cleveland did what had to be done to get the upset win.
The Raptors barely put up a fight in a game two drubbing and just like that, the would-be best team in the Eastern Conference was down 0-2 on their home floor. Game three brought more King James magic and suddenly this series is on the brink.
Tonight LeBron James and company can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They haven’t been perfect in these playoffs (or this series), but they keep fighting and they keep grinding. Doing that has helped them eat their way out of countless holes and defy Vegas.
Going against the top NBA sportsbooks hasn’t been a winning strategy when it comes to the Cavs this year, but all logic could go out the window with a carrot at the end of the stick tonight.
Still, for what it’s worth, the Cavs have not responded well to these exact situations this year. Cleveland went just 34-57-1 against the spread on the year (worst in the NBA) and that record is even worse when they’re favored on their home floor (11-30-1 ATS).
The Cavs have obviously finished off enough games to be inches away from the ECF going into game four, but their ATS struggles extend to the playoffs, where they’re 3-7 thus far.
Systematically, the Cavs remain a very tough out. They traditionally play their best ball at home, LeBron James is as aggressive as he needs to be for this team to thrive and Cleveland is finally getting help where it needs it the most.
Kevin Love was completely absent in the first round and didn’t help out much in game one, but he’s finally earning his keep with 31 and 21 points in each of the last two games. Love isn’t the only Cav player stepping up, either. As a whole, Cleveland is on fire from long range, hitting 40%, 43% and 36% in each game in this series.
That really wasn’t something you consistently saw in their first round series against the Indiana Pacers, but everyone knew it was possible since this team ranked 7th in that department during the regular season. With King James on a mission and his team finally helping out, betting against the Cavs looks likes a losing effort.
The big asterisk there is the Raptors could always snap back to who they were before this series started. This is still a very dynamic offensive team and they’ve proven that by twice topping 39% from deep in this series. The bigger problem is their defense, as Serge Ibaka has been a no-show and the guys Toronto keeps tossing at James just fail to slow one of the best players in history.
It’s hard to blame the Raptors too much, but they’re quickly looking like a serious tease. Still, they know they still have a fighting chance here. If they can out-muscle the Cavs here, the series goes back home and they’d have two home games to close out this series. They need to stay alive for that to matter, but there could be some optimism if they can just make it out of Cleveland with a win.
Ultimately, I think you’re getting too much value to pass on the Raptors. Yes, the Cavs are sharks smelling blood in the water, but they historically have been bad ATS in as home favorites and Toronto has pride on the line. They can’t get swept in this series and getting the series back home could gain back some of their confidence.
I’m not picking the Raptors to win tonight. Their +175 price isn’t enticing enough in an elimination game. That being said, they should come out and try to punch the Cavs in the mouth early. If they do that, they’re solid bets to finally get a win in this series or at least drop another close one. Considering two of the games in this series have been decided by two or fewer points, it’s a logical stance to take.