- In a year in which everything was supposed to be different for the Toronto Raptors, one thing remains the same: They can't beat LeBron James in the playoffs.
Any team losing at the hands of LeBron James in the playoffs can never truly be characterized as a surprise, but it’s also never less impressive to observe. Platitudes don’t really add much to dominance after, you know, the last decade or so of NBA basketball, but James’s dialed-in, scalding second-half performance Thursday night was something else. The Cavs’ 128–110 win over the Raptors extended their series lead to 2–0 after two road games. We’ve seen this one before.
James finished with 43 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds, turning the ball over just once and finishing +20 on the night. He did LeBron stuff after a competitive first half from both sides, he assisted on or scored the Cavs’ first seven field goals to start the second half, then had a personal 7-0 run a few minutes later. Cleveland won the third by 13 points and never looked back.
James, now in his 15th season, has put together one of his finest postseason runs to date, and keep in mind the Cavs aren’t even halfway there. He drained fadeaway after fadeaway jumper (seven total), found open shooters, triggered sequence after sequence of ball movement, and yes, he’s 33. Acknowledging that longevity, it was one of the more spectacular displays of shot-making skill we’ve seen from him. He has the most 30-point, 10-assist games in playoff history, passing Michael Jordan.
In the process, the Cavs managed to accomplish a lot: Kevin Love (31 points, 11 rebounds) appeared to get his groove back after a vote of confidence from Ty Lue. J.R. Smith and Jeff Green continue to turn in useful minutes. Nobody seems to remember the seven-game Pacers series, and as it stands, Cleveland is en route to earning back a few extra days of rest before the next series. This is where the team needs to be.
As for the Raptors, it doesn’t need to be spelled out, but two losses in Toronto as the series swings down to Cleveland is about as unsettling as it gets. Maybe they shouldn’t feel bad about running into this particular version of James, but when you’ve lost eight straight playoff meetings against his team, dating back two years, the emotional gamut is justifiable. Their effort was there early and the shots were falling much of the night, but it wasn’t enough (Cleveland shooting 23 free throws to Toronto’s 11 didn’t help).
After Game 1 slipped through the Raptors’ fingers, this loss tastes like a mouthful of blood. LeBron is LeBron, and Game 3 is Saturday.