LeBron James Pours in 28 Points as Cleveland Cavaliers Outlast Toronto Raptors 121-117 in Playoff Rematch
CLEVELAND — It was the playoff game in Ohio we didn’t see last spring when the Toronto Raptors met the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference final. A nail-biting, close until the very end thriller, eventually won by the defending NBA champions 121-117.
But the Raptors went down fighting in a physical, high scoring battle royale.
DeMar DeRozan might be feeling a little bit like Neo from the Matrix these days, able to slow down the game as he notches huge scoring numbers on a nightly basis, but four-time MVP LeBron James has been defying physics since the day he entered the league and was the difference in this one.
If James wasn’t scoring himself, he was finding teammates – usually Channing Frye – beyond the arc for three-pointers.
James ended up with 28 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, making two thirds of his shots.
It was a wild finish. Not long after a debatable Kyle Lowry technical foul (Lowry’s take: “I’ll save my money”), Frye waited out the Toronto defence and nailed his fifth trey of the game to restore a two-point Cavs edge with 59 seconds remaining, DeRozan missed a three, Cleveland rebounded and James somehow got free for a layup following a timeout.
A Lowry miss was hauled in by James, but he got called for an offensive foul for flattening Patrick Patterson with an elbow. A makeup call foul (offensive call on Jonas Valanciunas) basically sealed the deal.
The best sign of the night for the Raptors was the return to form of Lowry, who had by far his top outing of the season (28 points, nine assists, five rebounds, including 50 per cent shooting on three-pointers), though he wasn’t impressed.
“It was just a high octane offensive game, but for us, we can’t play like that,” Lowry said.
“We base our team and our game on defence and we’ve got to get that back. We’ve got to find a way to get our defence more involved.”
The Raptors had won 6-of-7 since falling to the Cavs on Oct. 28 in the second game of the season and were eager to get another crack at the team that knocked them out of post-season contention last season, especially at Quicken Loans Arena, where Toronto has not found any success (the playoff losses there were by 31, 19 and 38 points).
DeRoza had said earlier in the day it would be an “opportunity to redeem ourselves.”
DeRozan tossed in another 26 points, but his efficiency wasn’t there this time around (just 10-for-27 shooting). Kevin Love tossed in 16 of his 19 points in the first half for Cleveland, while Brampton’s Tristan Thompson scored 15, missing only one of eight field goal attempts and added 11 rebounds. Cleveland pulverized Toronto on the glass in the first half, but the Raptors turned the tables from there.
Lowry’s shot was falling from the start and it didn’t stop.
The plucky Raptors hung with the champs, even taking the lead several times, including late in the fourth quarter, largely thanks to Lowry magic.
At shootaround, DeRozan had been asked for about the 10th time about his incredible scoring run to start the season and the company he is keeping with each 30-point outburst.
“Just my confidence, my experience, this being my eighth year, I feel like I’ve been in every single scenario when it comes to basketball-wise. End of games. Going against certain defenders, big guys, smaller guys, seeing double teams, everything has stuck in my mind so when I go out there I’m familiar with everything, so it makes everything else come easy,” he said.
But as well as he had been playing, he wasn’t at that level on Tuesday and there is only one James, only one top player of this generation (and most others).
“He thinks the game,” Norm Powell said when asked why James is such a tough cover. “He doesn’t let anything faze him, he’s great with facilitating, getting to his spots and knowing where the defence is going to be at before they are even there. When you think you’ve got him trapped, he’s making a great pass to a teammate that’s wide open.”
And that kept happening all evening long.
Now, the Raptors will have to find a way to rebound in time for a home date with the Golden State Warriors only hours after the conclusion of this tough battle.
“At least we get to sleep in,” said one Raptor hopefully.
Terrence Ross was looking forward to following up with a crack at Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Co.
“That’s what we get paid for,” Ross told Postmedia. “It’s tough, but at the same time, it’s fun, going out there and meeting up to that challenge and playing well. Because once you know you play well against those teams with tough schedules like this, you know what you are capable of.”
There is no truth to the rumour that the NBA wanted the Raptors to host San Antonio on Thursday night, too, because this two-game set wasn’t challenging enough.