The Cavaliers closed out Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals Friday night with a no-holds-barred 113-87 win. Cleveland’s average margin of victory over its four wins was 28.5 points and, no, that’s not a misprint.
A few thoughts to consider as the Cavs advance to the Finals for the second straight year:
1. LeBron James delivered a monster performance, scoring 33 points, pulling down 11 rebounds and handing out six assists. Hard to watch James on Friday and opine that he’s not the best player in the world.
2. A few images of James hung with me as the final buzzer sounded. The first came about midway through the fourth quarter. The Cavs were up but had not yet sealed the deal. Bismack Biyombo missed a jump shot, and James calmly snared a flat-footed rebound out of the air with one hand. He then casually tossed the ball to Kyrie Irving and instructed him to call a timeout so James could head to the bench and take a rest.
3. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about this play, save for its nonchalance. And that’s what resonated. Fans were gripping their seats tightly all game. Maybe some of James’ teammates had butterflies. But seeing James casually stab a rebound and slink off to the bench had me thinking this: He knows the Cavs are winning this game.
4. The other image from Friday’s game that will endure is James standing at the scorer’s table ready to check in with about 5 minutes to play. While he waited to enter, his teammates -- and Irving, specifically --effectively put the Raptors to rest. James was emotional, cheerleading as Irving, Kevin Love and the others excelled.
5. Seeing James so excited and passionate and thrilled for his teammates was a scene I couldn’t have imagined happening as recently as a month ago.
6. Irving was special. He scored 30 and dished out nine assists. In the fourth quarter, he made an array of pretty buckets. There are certainly times when he forces the action just a little too much, but there are significantly more times when he weaves a tapestry of masterpiece shot-making.
8. Love struggled in embarrassing fashion in both Games 3 and 4. His return to Toronto on Friday night was an unquestioned redemption. Love scored 20 points, pulled down 12 aggressive boards and even dished out four assists.
9. The Big Three were unstoppable. 83 points, 27 rebounds and 19 assists. There is no team in the NBA that will beat them with that supreme level of output from Love, Irving and James.
10. JR Smith chipped in 15 points, but his tenacity on defense was palpable. No matter who the Cavs get in the Finals, Smith’s defense will be a huge factor as both teams still alive in the Western Conference boast backcourt players who are second to none.
11. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan actually played quite well, but it simply didn’t matter against the Cavs' high-powered machine. Lowry caught fire from deep, making 6-of-12 threes, many of them from well behind the arc and with fairly high levels of difficulty.
12. Take a minute and process how dominant the Cavs’ four wins against Toronto really were -- winning by 31, 19, 38 and 26 points in the conference finals is patently absurd.
13. Sure, they dropped two games in curious fashion, but I would submit that such dominant wins in Games 5 and 6 banished those two losses to the season’s cellar. The Cavs could not have imagined rolling into the Finals on any better roll than this one.
14. So that begs the question, who would you rather see the Cavs play for the title? For me, it comes down to home-court advantage. Both Golden State and Oklahoma City are absolute monsters, but I’d rather play the Thunder knowing the Cavs get four games at home.
15. This may be unpopular, but the Thunder actually terrify me more than the Warriors. The athleticism of RussellWestbrook is frightening, and he plays the point guard position in a way that we’ve never seen -- he is a bottle rocket that shoots from baseline to baseline, he attacks the rim with the ferocity of a power forward, he rebounds, he creates great looks for his teammates, he defends. He does all of this every night out, relentlessly.
16. In short, while we spent an entire season marveling at the unprecedented shooting of Steph Curry, Westbrook gathered his already well-rounded game into a hurricane that barrels through your town and takes everything you own on the way out.
17. Then there’s Kevin Durant. He can shoot from anywhere and now he is defending at an elite level, even protecting the rim.
18. Right now, Westbrook and Durant scare me more than Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green which is, of course, bizarre as Golden State is the best regular season team ever. I would still choose to play the Thunder solely because of the comfort of Quicken Loans Arena.
19. The Finals start June 2, but Cavs' fans should take some time and reflect on what an impressive run this team has made through the first three rounds of the postseason. There’s nothing wrong with a “championship or bust” attitude, but don’t let it preclude appreciating the greatness that James and his crew have exhibited over the past month.