Things are supposed to get tougher as a team climbs through the individual rounds of the Playoffs. But one gets the feeling that with the Pacers in the rearview mirror, the three-time Eastern Conference champs are starting to find their rhythm.
LeBron James and Kevin Love combined for 74 points and the Cavaliers played their most complete offensive game of the postseason – blowing past the Raptors after intermission and cruising to the 128-110 win over a demoralized Raptors squad on Thursday night at Air Canada Centre.
With the win, the Wine & Gold take a commanding 2-0 lead – stealing both games north of the border with three of the next five (if necessary) to be played at Quicken Loans Arena.
As they had in Game 1, the Raptors led through almost the entire first half – shooting 60 percent in the stanza and taking a two-point edge into the locker room.
But the third quarter funk that had plagued the Wine & Gold all season – and into the Playoffs – was non-existent on Thursday night. The Cavaliers came out swinging in the third and didn’t stop until both coaches emptied their benches with 2:34 to play.
”Defensively, I thought we let our guards down (in the second quarter,” said Coach Tyronn Lue. “We were scoring easily and we stopped defending. We didn’t talk, we didn’t communicate our coverages but in that three-minute timeout we talked about finishing the half strong and locking down defensively.
”We got some stops and we were able to come into halftime down two and we felt the momentum turning. And we came out and had a really good third quarter and that won the game for us.”
LeBron and Love accounted for most of that third quarter damage.
James put on a withering shooting display in the quarter – netting 15 points in the period, going 7-for-10 from the floor. Love was almost as good, notching nine points on 4-for-5 shooting as Cleveland outscored the Raptors, 37-24, and took an 11-point edge into the final 12 minutes.
If Raptors had any intentions of catching the Cavaliers down the stretch, the four-time MVP disabused them of that notion almost immediately, pouring in another dozen points in the fourth as Cleveland ran its lead to as large as 23.
”That third quarter was huge for us; we kind of flipped the script,” said Love. “That had been our Achilles’ heel – the third quarter throughout our entire season, we didn’t play well, we played pretty poorly. But we came out firing, we made big shots and on both ends of the floor I thought we played really well.”
LeBron posted his fourth 40-point game through the first nine contests of the postseason – bouncing back from a poor shooting night in Game 1 to tally a game-high 43 points on 19-for-28 shooting, adding a game-high 14 assists to go with eight boards and a steal.
Through the first two games of the series – including his second triple-double of the Playoffs in Tuesday’s Game 1 – James has exactly two turnovers.
Love bounced back from a difficult Game 1 performance in which he went just 3-of-13 from the floor. In Game 2, the five-time All-Star was confident and aggressive from the opening tip – notching 31 points on 11-for-21 shooting, going 7-of-7 from the stripe and leading Cleveland with 11 boards in the win.
Cleveland’s All-Star duo did most of the heavy lifting on Thursday, but Coach Tyronn Lue got a balanced attack – with five players finishing in double-figures.
JR Smith followed up his 20-point effort in Game 1 with a 15-point performance on Thursday night – going 5-of-8 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from long-range. George Hill was solid in his second straight start – adding 13 points also on 5-of-8 shooting, adding three boards and a pair of assists.
Jeff Green led Cleveland’s reserves with a rock-solid 20 minutes of work off the bench – chipping in with 14 points, going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc to go with a pair of blocked shots.
Toronto got a quiet combined 45 points from its high-profile backcourt.
DeMar DeRozan, who battled foul trouble for most of the night, led the Raptors with 24 points, but has yet to sink a three-pointer in the series after going 0-for-5 from deep on Thursday night. Kyle Lowry’s numbers look solid – netting 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting – but he tallied just three of those 21 points after intermission.
Neither team was particularly sharp defensively. The Cavaliers shot 60 percent on the night to the Raptors’ 54 percent. The Raptors canned one more triple than the Wine & Gold, but Cleveland made 23 trips to the line compared to 11 for Toronto.
One number that definitely stood out once again were the turnover numbers. Toronto wasn’t bad, committing only 11 miscues on the night. But the Cavaliers have been excellent through the first two games of the series – turning the ball over just three times in Game 2 after committing only six errors in Game 1.
Turning Point — The third quarter has been brutal for the Cavaliers all year long, but it seems like they’re beginning to figure things out north of the border.
The Raptors’ confidence couldn’t have been too high heading into the halftime locker room on Thursday. In the second quarter, they shot 72 percent from the floor, canned five of their eight three-point attempts and led by as many as nine.
But the Cavaliers were relentless closing the half – going on an 8-2 run to close the second quarter trailing by just a deuce.
The third quarter belonged to the Wine & Gold – with JR Smith tying the game on Cleveland’s first possession and Kevin Love leading a 16-5 run that put the Cavs up 11 – 79-68 – less than five minutes into the second stanza.
The Cavs would extend that lead to 15 before the fourth quarter on LeBron’s jaw-dropping jumpshot display, with James putting the finishing touches on Dwane Casey’s demoralized squad early in the final period.
By the Numbers – 32-4 … all-time Playoff record for teams that win the first two road games of a postseason series.
Quotable – LeBron James, on Kevin Love’s performance in Thursday’s Game 2 win …
”(Kevin) wanted the ball, he demanded the ball and we got it to him. We worked well without the ball, we hit him on a couple slashes to the rim and he was able to dunk one, hit one on the run. He had his three-pointer going early but, more importantly, he was just working in the paint. He wasn’t settling and we continued to feature him, continued to go to him and it was great to see that performance out of him tonight.”
Up Next — Following Thursday’s lopsided victory at Air Canada Centre, the Wine & Gold head home for the next two – welcoming the Raptors to Cleveland for Game 3 on Saturday night (8:30 p.m.) and again at The Q on Monday night, same tipoff time. If necessary, the Eastern Conference Semis return to the Great White North two nights later, with Game 5 set for next Wednesday (5/9). Game 6 takes place next Friday night back in Cleveland (5/11) with a possible Game 7 scheduled for the following Sunday (5/13) in Toronto – all times TBD.