(Toronto, On) At the end of the third quarter with the Cleveland Cavaliers up 98-87 over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, ESPN play-by-play commentator Mike Tirico says the following.
“We’ll be back to LeBronto in the fourth quarter after this.”
And this was before LeBron James put on a dazzling display of making contested fadeaway jumpers in the final frame. It sure felt like LeBron’s city today.
James led five Cavs players in double figures, finishing with 43 points, 14 assists, and eight rebounds as the Cavaliers put a stranglehold in this series, beating the Raptors 128-110, at the Air Canada Centre, to take a 2-0 series lead. The Cavs superstar shot 19 of 28 from the field.
Remember how this was supposed to be a competitive series this time around between the top seeded Raptors and the fourth seeded Cleveland Cavaliers? Yeah, me too.
Now the series shifts south of the border to the Quicken Loans Arena as Cleveland has a chance to take care of their home court and sweep Toronto for the second straight year.
27 of James’ points came in the second half as the Cavaliers shot a scorching 67.5 per cent from the field (27-40) and 57.4 per cent (8-14) from downtown during that time frame, outscoring the Raptors, 67-47.
Kevin Love broke out of his playoff slump in a big way with 31 points and a team high 11 rebounds, J.R Smith (15) and Jeff Green (14) once again had solid performances while George Hill provided a secondary playmaking boost with 13 points.
For Toronto, DeMar DeRozan led the way with 24 points. Kyle Lowry had an efficient 21 points and eight assists, with 18 of them coming in the first half but was hampered by foul trouble in the second half.
Jonas Valanciunas had another double-double, finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds while Fred van Vleet dropped 14 off of the bench as the Raptors are left soul-searching after dropping both games in a building where they were 34-7 during the regular season.
Overall, Cleveland shot 59.5 per cent from the field as Toronto’s defense was simply abysmal. They tried to shut off the three point line from the Cavs’ shooters but unfortunately the tradeoff was in the points in the paint column (56) as LeBron consistently found cutters for open layups and dunks.
The Cavaliers hit six more field goals than the Raptors, had a 17-10 advantage at the free throw line, and had 13 points off of 11 Raptor turnovers, while committing just three themselves. Meanwhile, Toronto had 62 points in the paint while hitting 12 triples and dishing out 26 assists.
Cleveland made it known that they were going to get Love involved early as he attempted nine field goals in the first quarter and had 10 points. On the strength of Lowry’s 10 first quarter points on 4-4 from the field, however, Toronto held a 29-26 lead after one.
Lowry and VanVleet each had eight in the second quarter as Toronto shot a red hot 72.2 per cent (13-18) from the field and 62.5 per cent (5-8) from three point land.
They led by as many as nine (56-47) before Cleveland closed out the half on a 14-6 run to trail by only two (63-61) heading into intermission. A controversial play near the end of the first half occurred when Lowry picked up his third foul on a block in what looked to be a charge as James ran over him.
Coming out of halftime, Smith’s three point play gave Cleveland the lead for good as they went on a 20-5 run, which began late in the first half. Led by LeBron’s 15 in the quarter, the Cavs outscored the Raptors, 37-24, in the quarter and shot 72.7 per cent from the field (16-22) as they led 98-87 heading into the fourth quarter.
Cleveland continued their offensive onslaught, scoring the first seven points of the final frame as an exasperated Dwane Casey had to call a timeout to stop the bleeding. And although Toronto cut the lead to a manageable 13 points (109-96) with 7:23 left, the Cavaliers put the game away for good with a 12-2 run as Smith’s triple gave them their largest lead at 23, sending a stunned sellout ACC crowd to the exits.
Aside from the second quarter, in which the ball was humming from side to side leading to nine assists, Toronto simply could not match Cleveland’s offensive output. Let’s face it; allowing 128 points isn’t going to win you many games let alone one.
On the defensive end, communication has been absolutely atrocious as the Cavaliers players have been feasting off of off ball screens while LeBron has the ball with his back to the basket. In their effort to take away the three, they gave up the paint.
Overall, the effort to care about the game, especially in the second half when things got tough, was not there. Quite simply, the Raptors got embarrassed on their home floor.
And somebody also file a missing persons report as well for Serge Ibaka because he has been atrocious, ever since Game 1 of the first round against the Washington Wizards. In the second round itself, he has averaged only 5.5 ppg on a ghastly 23.1 per cent from the field while missing all five of his attempts from behind the arc. He has to be better in order for Toronto to even have a chance of winning this series.
Game 3 will be on Saturday night at 8:30pm on Sportsnet One (Canada) and on ABC (United States/Canada) as the Raptors look to claw their way back into this series.
But if the effort level is anything like it was in the second half last night, it’ll be a short series and a very long offseason for Toronto.
Written by Kajan Thiruthanikasalam