- LeBron James broke Toronto's hearts once again in Game 3 as his wild buzzer–beater gave the Cavaliers a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Raptors.
The Cavaliers defeated the Raptors 105-103 at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday, as Cleveland’s four-time MVP nailed his second buzzer-beating game-winner of the 2018 playoffs.
Even by James’s lofty standard, this was a shot to remember, a picture-perfect banking runner set up by a full-court sprint through Toronto’s defense.
“The level of difficulty of that shot is very difficult,” he quipped during his post-game press conference. “Don’t try it at home.”
With the score tied at 103 and eight seconds remaining, Cleveland used its final timeout to prepare for the last possession of regulation. Coach Tyronn Lue opted to inbound the ball from under the Cavaliers' own hoop, giving James the opportunity to get a full head of steam as he tried to find a seam in the Raptors’ defense.
“I had more than enough time to get the ball from one baseline to the other,” James said. “When do I decide what shot to take? To be honest, sometimes I don’t really know. But I trust every shot I’m going to take because I work on every shot.”
James, who was shadowed by rookie OG Anunoby, began improvising as he came up the court, quickly escaping Toronto’s planned double-team as he drove toward the left side.
“We wanted to trap him and get it out of his hands,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We started it in the backcourt but for some reason we let him out of the trap. We wanted to get the ball out of his hands to make somebody else make a shot. Didn't get it done.”
Once he crossed mid-court, James briefly appeared to be setting up his pet move: a step-back three going left. Rather than pull up, though, James crossed over from right to left when he reached the three-point arc, gaining a half-step on Anunoby as he headed toward the left baseline. "You know he's going left,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry lamented. “He got to his spot. Maybe we could have doubled him or made him go right. He's going left."
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, James planted off his left foot and elevated while still on the move, his momentum carrying him slightly away from the hoop as he squared his shoulders for a running mid-range jumper. The shot banked in high off the glass as time expired, sending the Cleveland crowd into a frenzy.
"I'm almost speechless seeing this type of thing,” Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said. “You see him shoot that shot all the time in practice, going away, with his left hand. ... It was one of the best. Just a special shot. It's just who he is."'
James won Game 5 against the Pacers in the first round with a deep three-pointer going to his left.
“Tie game, down one, whatever the case may be,” James said. “I live for those moments. That mental clock, of being a kid, telling myself, ‘3-2-1.’ Making the noise of the net. I’ve been doing that since I was six, seven or eight years old. Maybe even before that. There’s a picture floating around of me beside a Little Tykes hoop with a saggy Pampers on. I was probably doing it back then, all the way up until now at 33. There are things you dream about, to get those opportunities, and I’ve been fortunate to get a handful of those in the biggest moments of my career.”
James finished with a game-high 38 points (on 14-26 shooting), six rebounds and seven assists. Love added 21 points and 16 rebounds for Cleveland. Lowry led the Raptors with 27 points and seven assists.
Cleveland now holds a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals series. The Cavaliers can close out the Raptors in Game 4, set for Monday in Cleveland.