Can the Toronto Raptors Finally Beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in a Playoff Series?

Is this the year that the Raptors finally take down LeBron and the Cavs? What do the numbers say?

Here we go again.

For the third straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors will square off in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

In 2016, the two teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Cavaliers won the series 4-2. The six games would normally suggest a close series, but LeBron James famously said that the 2-2 tie going into Game 5 wasn’t an “adverse situation”, and the Cavs' average margin of victory (15.5) bears that out.

In 2017, when the two teams met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Raptors once again offered very little adversity for the Cavaliers, getting swept 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 15.25 at the hands of LeBron and company.

As we head into the third iteration of this matchup, should we be listening to history and siding with the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, or is it time to bet on the better team (at least on paper) in this year's Raptors?

Both Vegas and our metrics are with the North this time around.

Bovada has the Raptors favored at -200 to win the series (implied 66.67%) and our metrics are fairly close to that as well (57.24%), with the most likely outcome being a Raptors win in seven games:

(1) Toronto Raptors (4) Cleveland Cavaliers
Win in 4 6.62% 5.37%
Win in 5 16.74% 8.80%
Win in 6 13.77% 16.90%
Win in 7 20.11%
Win series 57.24%

Recent history suggests that Cleveland has Toronto’s number, and it’s always hard to bet against LeBron James, one of the greatest players of all time (particularly when he’s been to the NBA Finals for seven consecutive seasons), but if Toronto is ever going to beat James and his Cavs, now is the time.

If you compared the two teams side by side, forgetting who specifically plays for which team and any prior history, picking a winner would be kind of a no-brainer:

CategoryToronto Raptors (NBA Rank)Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA Rank)
Wins59 (2nd)50 (6th)
Pythagorean wins60 (2nd)43 (14th)
Margin of victory7.78 (2nd)0.94 (14th)
Offensive rating113.8 (2nd)112.9 (5th)
Defensive rating105.9 (5th)111.9 (29th)

The Raptors had an amazing season, coming in second in the Association in wins, Pythagorean wins (expected wins, based on points scored and allowed), margin of victory, and offensive rating, while coming in fifth in defensive rating.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, fell behind the Raptors in each of those major categories, including a -17 differential in Pythagorean wins. The defenses are not even remotely comparable, while Cleveland ranks behind Toronto in offensive efficiency, which is supposed to be the Cavs’ biggest strength.

Yes, the Toronto Raptors have some playoff demons to exorcise, and you can never count out a LeBron-led team, but this is Toronto’s series to lose. After two straight years of being the underdog in this matchup, the Raptors now have homecourt advantage and, for the first time, a legitimate claim to being the better team overall.

Your gut might say to pick Cleveland -- and more specifically, LeBron -- in this series, but almost everything else points to the Raptors finally coming out on top of this familiar matchup.