TORONTO — Staring at a possible 3-0 series deficit after dropping the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Cleveland Cavaliers by a combined 33 points, Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey wants his team to turn up the physicality on Friday night.
“Play. Compete. That’s the thing about it,” Casey said before tip-off, when asked to share his message with his team. “You’re going into a 15-round (fight). You work all year to go against the champ in a boxing match. You train, you hit the heavy bag, you bounce out and you come out and you go to the rope-a-dope for 15 rounds instead of throwing a punch.
LeBron James says the attention given to his ball spin before a 3-pointer against the Raptors just comes with the territory, and he scoffed at any added significance attached to the moment.
“To beat the champs, you got to throw punches. Whether they’re haymakers, undercuts or whatever. Maybe a couple below the belt. But you got to box. You got to fight, you got to compete.”
Casey’s below-the-belt comment brought to mind Game 3 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals between the teams, when the Cavs’ Dahntay Jones struck then-Raptors center Bismack Biyombo in the groin. He later received a one-game suspension.
The coach mentioned again how the Raptors were irked by the Cavs’ “antics” so far in the series — including LeBron James spinning the ball in his hands before stroking a 3-pointer in Game 2 and pretending to sip a beer on the sidelines in Game 1 — but stopped short of ordering his team to play dirty.
“All the other antics and all those other things, you have an opportunity for 48 minutes to do something about it,” Casey said. “You can do something about it legally, cleanly, it doesn’t have to be flagrant. Like I said, it’s not hockey, you can’t take your gloves off and go at it until you fall and hit the ice. You can physically get into the guy, make him feel you, and that’s what I don’t think we’ve done. He’s way too comfortable moving around, freedom of movement, passing, shooting. Again, I’m not saying our guys for the whole game didn’t do that, but too many times they felt comfortable.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, coincidentally, said getting his team to play tougher was a priority of his, as well, as the series shifts to Toronto.
“We talked about today that we could be more physical,” Lue said. “I thought with Jonas Valanciunas and those guys rolling to the basket, we have to be more physical. We showed them a clip yesterday that we had to bring more physicality to the game. So, we’ve got to be more physical but we’ve got to be smart doing that.”
Lue was asked if James in particular would be affected by the Raptors implementing a fiercer game plan.
“I don’t know,” Lue said. “But they’re going to be more physical. We have to be more physical, but we also have to keep our composure. And not do anything foolish. The playoffs are a physical game. If you watched the game last night between Boston and Washington, we got to be able to keep our composure but also play a physical game.”
The Wizards’ Kelly Oubre was ejected from Game 3 of that series for shoving the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk and faces a possible suspension for Game 4.