Just when you think there’s nothing more that LeBron James can do to top an already jaw-dropping postseason run … the King goes one better.
It’s not too early to say that, right now, the four-time MVP is working on one of the greatest Playoff runs in NBA history – and LeBron added to that living legend on Saturday night – banking home a one-handed runner at the buzzer after Toronto had tied the game seconds earlier, giving the Wine & Gold the 105-103 win at The Q and a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Semis.
The Cavaliers led by as many 17 points in the second half and 14 in the fourth quarter before a desperate Raptors squad mounted a furious comeback, tying the affair at 103-apiece on OG Anunoby’s triple with 8.8 to play in regulation.
Cleveland called its final timeout and everyone in the arena knew who’d be getting the ball. Toronto tried doubling James in the backcourt, but he took Kevin Love’s in-bounds pass and drove the length of the floor, sidestepping left past Onunoby just over halfcourt and throwing up the runner from 12 feet out.
The shot grazed the backboard and splashed through, giving James his second game-winner at the buzzer in Cleveland’s last three home games and, more importantly, putting the Cavaliers squarely in the driver’s seat against and the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded squad on the brink of extinction.
”The ability to have different things in my toolbox and the repertoire that I have, throughout the game I can kind of go through those,” said James, explaining the shot. “So that’s another instance in that game where I had an opportunity to go to something I practice or kind of mess around with in tinkering shots and things finding angles and things of that nature. So I think that’s just what it boiled down to.”
”I was just saying that watching LeBron go through his process every single day in practice and seeing his preparation, I started talking about different shots that I’ve seen him hit over the course of my four years here,” added Kevin Love. “What you come to find out as his teammate and playing with him is that he practices those shots all the time, and makes them all the time.”
The Raptors tried a lineup change – inserting Fred VanVleet into the starting five – and were much more physical than in the previous two games in Toronto. But the Wine & Gold adapted easily and, like the Raptors had in Game 1, led the entire game until being stung by a three-pointer in the closing seconds.
But, unlike that contest, there would be no shot at redemption for the Raptors in an overtime session. Instead, they face a one-game Playoff to save their season on Monday night at The Q.
James finished just two points shy of posting his fifth 40-point game of the postseason – leading all scorers with 38 points, going 14-for-26 from the floor and 9-of-11 from the stripe, adding a team-high seven assists, six boards, a game-high three steals and a blocked shot.
Through the first two rounds of the 2018 Playoffs, the 14-time All-Star is averaging 34.8 points on 55 percent shooting to go with 9.6 boards and 8.8 assists per contest.
Somewhat lost in LeBron’s late heroics was the play of Kevin Love – who’s bounced back from a rough Game 1 with two straight double-doubles, finishing with 21 points and a game-high 16 boards, going 7-for-14 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the stripe, adding a pair of assists and a steal. Cleveland was a game-high +20 in Love’s 38 minutes of action.
Kyle Korver was sharp once again – chipping in with 18 points, going 6-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. George Hill notched double-figures for the second straight game, as well, adding 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
Jeff Green rounded out the Cavaliers in double-figures, coming off the bench to finish with 11 points, going 5-of-12 from the floor.
The Raptors got their best game of the series from Kyle Lowry, who scored 15 of his team-high 27 points in the fourth quarter, going 5-of-6 from the floor in the period and 9-for-13 from the floor overall – canning four triples and leading his squad with seven assists.
Toronto’s other All-Star guard, DeMar DeRozan, didn’t have quite the same fourth quarter experience as Lowry – watching the entire final 12 minutes from the bench after struggling mightily on 3-for-12 shooting through the first three periods.
Turning Point — In a game that had exactly one tie and zero lead-changes, it’s hard to pick a clear turning point aside from LeBron’s buzzer-beating histrionics.
But the game might have been decided late in the second quarter when the Raptors cut Cleveland’s early double-digit lead to just a single point midway through the period.
The Cavaliers caught fire from there, however, going on a dominant 16-2 run over the first half’s final five minutes to take a 15-point edge at intermission.
The Raptors would get within five, 57-52, in the third. But again, Cleveland hit the afterburners, closing the period on a 22-13 run to give themselves some breathing room heading into the final 12 minutes of regulation.
By the Numbers – 792, 123 … Playoff points and three-pointers that Kevin Love has tallied as a Cavalier – the former moving him past Brad Daugherty (782) and into 4th place in franchise scoring and the latter moving him past Kyrie Irving into 3rd place among long-distance marksmen.
Quotable – Kyle Korver, on LeBron James’ game-winner on Saturday night …
”I ran out of words a while ago. I’ve seen him shoot that shot – that game-winner – countless times when he’s just messing around at shootaround or in practice. It’s always like, ‘When would he shoot a shot like that? Maybe to win a playoff game, I don’t know.’”
Up Next — After taking Saturday night’s thriller at The Q, the Wine & Gold will look to complete the sweep when these two square off on Monday night here in Cleveland. If the series extends beyond that, it’s back to Toronto for Game 5, set for Wednesday night (5/9) at Air Canada Centre. The Conference Semis then return to Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night (5/11) and, should things go the distance, back north of the border for Game 7 next Sunday (5/13) – all times TBD.