From all appearances, this was going to be the night for the Toronto Raptors.
Up against The Guy and The Team that had tormented them in the last two postseasons, Tuesday was going to be payback time for We The North against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We knew we were going to get their best shot today,” James said.
Payback? Make that going deeper in debt.
King James remains Ruler of The North.
Cleveland’s improbable 113-112 overtime takedown of the top-seeded Raptors marked the Cavaliers’ ninth win in 11 postseason games against Toronto, the team they eliminated in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 and blew through it in four games in a semifinal series last spring.
It also left the Raptors, who worked so hard during the regular season to secure homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs in the East — now gone down the proverbial tubes — en route to 59 wins, blaming themselves for the loss.
And they’re probably correct.
A seven-point favorite against a Cavalier team that needed a rugged Game 7 win against Indiana less than 48 hours earlier just to get to the second round, Toronto, which was resting since eliminating Washington last Friday, charged to a 33-19 lead after the first quarter… and lost.
James, who scored 45 points in Game 7 against the Pacers in 43 minutes Sunday, shot 3-for-15 in the second half, including 3-for-11 in the fourth quarter and did not score a point in overtime… and the Raptors lost.
Toronto had double-figure leads in all four quarters, while Cleveland did not lead once in regulation… and the Raptors lost.
The Raptors had four good looks on their final possession at the end of regulation, including a point-blank tip attempt by Jonas Valanciunas, then another at the end of the extra session… and lost.
“A lot of things, we did to ourselves,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “I think we’re a better team. We just didn’t make the shots down the stretch. I know it sounds simplistic, but we had our open looks, had our opportunities, that we didn’t cash in on, and some other things we could clean up defensively.”
Valanciunas, who pretty much threw every Cavalier not named Tristan Thompson around like a rag doll in the first three quarters and who finished with 21 points and 21 rebounds, believes the Raptors are right where they need to be.
“We gotta stay ready, we gotta stay together, we gotta learn from this,” he said. “The series is here, it’s not over yet. It’s one game. We’re in good shape. Teams lose, win. We’re here.”
Asked if the Game 1 loss would hurt Toronto’s psyche, the Raptors big man didn’t give an inch.
“We have confidence,” he said. “We have confidence going to Game 2 and winning. Just, tough game.
“We lost by one. It’s not like they’re way, way better than us. We’re still here. We just got to clean up some mistakes and make some shots and we’re good.”
With Thompson (14 points, 12 boards off the bench) doing a good job combatting him, Valanciunas missed six of his seven field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter.
He was far from alone, though, in terms of going cold in the final 12 minutes. Toronto shot just 5-of-24 (20.8) percent in the fourth quarter, missing the final 11 shots it took in regulation.
“I don’t know if it was nerves or yips or what,” Casey said. “Just things that shot ourselves in the foot when we had a 10-point lead.”
The Raptors’ words say they are not shaken by the one-point overtime loss.
“We deserved to win this game,” Toronto forward Pascal Siakam said. “We did a lot of good things. Obviously, we had a lot of mistakes.
“At the end there, we had a lot of opportunities to win it.”