The Raptors, LeBron, and the Eastern Conference

The 4-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers have swept the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors. Despite LeBron James’ past success against Toronto, I do not think anyone saw a sweep taking place.

The Cavs had just been pushed to seven games against the Indiana Pacers, winning the series despite a -40 point differential. Meanwhile, the Raptors finished the season with 59 wins, making them the second-best team in the NBA record-wise. Despite this, they were swept with LeBron personally supplying a buzzer-beater to win game three.

Raptors playoffs struggles continue

Over the last five seasons, the Raptors have put together their five best individual seasons in franchise history behind All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. However, this has not resulted in playoff success as they have been swept three times in the last five seasons, twice to lower-seeded teams.

Toronto has now been swept in two of their last four playoff series. Prior to this, they had only been swept twice in their first 11 playoff series. One of those series was their first ever playoff appearance back in the 1999-00 season when the first-round was only best-of-five.

Year Reg. Record Playoff Seed Playoff Rec. Round Eliminated by (seed) Swept?
2013-14 48-34 (.585) 3 3-4 1st Nets (6) No
2014-15 49-33 (.598) 4 0-4 1st Wizards (5) Yes
2015-16 56-26 (.683) 2 10-10 Conf. Finals Cavs (1) No
2016-17 51-31 (.622) 3 4-6 Conf. Semis Cavs (2) Yes
2017-18 59-23 (.720) 1 4-6 Conf. Semis Cavs (4) Yes
Totals 263-147 (.643) Avg. seed: 2.6 21-30 (41.48%) Avg. seed: 3.6 3/5 (60%)


LeBron dominates the Raptors (and the rest of the East)

Since LeBron made his decision to take his talents to South Beach for the 2010-11 season, his teams have utterly dominated the rest of the Eastern Conference. Having been to seven straight NBA Finals during this period it is no surprise that LeBron’s teams have won nearly 80% of their playoff games against the East.

Year Team Playoff Rec. Playoff Seed # of game 7s # of sweeps
2010-11 Heat 12-3 2 0 0
2011-12 Heat 12-6 2 1 0
2012-13 Heat 12-4 1 1 1
2013-14 Heat 12-3 2 0 1
2014-15 Cavs 12-2 2 0 2
2015-16 Cavs 12-2 1 0 2
2016-17 Cavs 12-1 2 0 2
2017-18 Cavs 8-3 4 1 1
Totals 92-24 (79.31%) Avg. Seed: 2 3-23 (11.53%) 9/23 (28.12%)

LeBron has played 11 of the 16 teams in the East the over the last eight years in the playoffs. Ironically enough, he never played the Cavaliers when in Miami and has yet to play the Heat in Cleveland.

Teams # of series Playoff record Game 7s forced Times swept
Pacers 5 10-21 2 1
Celtics 4 5-16 1 1
Bulls 3 4-12 0 0
Raptors 3 2-12 0 2
Hawks 2 0-8 0 2
76ers 1 1-4 0 0
Knicks 1 1-4 0 0
Nets 1 1-4 0 0
Bucks 1 0-4 0 1
*Hornets 1 0-4 0 1
Pistons 1 0-4 0 1

*The Hornets were called the Bobcats when LeBron played them in the playoffs.

Can the Celtics break the cycle?

The Boston Celtics are up 3-1 over the Philadelphia 76ers and seem destined to play the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, barring them becoming the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in the playoffs.

Despite missing stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, as well as backup big-man Daniel Theis, Boston has exceeded expectations during the playoffs. This is in no small part due to the coaching genius of Brad Stevens, the veteran presence of Al Horford and they way the young trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier have stepped up.

The last time a LeBron team lost in the Eastern Conference playoffs was back in the 2009-10 season in the Conference Semifinals to the Boston Celtics. This completely different Celtics team will face a tall task in trying to beat LeBron and the Cavs to end his run of winning the East.

Sources and info:

Featured Image: “LeBron James” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

All tables and graphs made using Google Spreadsheets


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