Cleveland's third Finals appearance could very well be a charm with its offense surging at historic levels
POSTED: May 28, 2016 2:39 AM ET
Cavaliers vs. Raptors: Game 6
LeBron James scores 33 points and grabs 11 rebounds as the Cavaliers knock off the Raptors in Game 6.
TORONTO — If Cleveland is ever going to win another championship, this may be its best chance.
LeBron James is going back to The Finals for the sixth straight year, and he's never been in a better position to bring the city of Cleveland its first major sports title since 1964. James continued his dominance of the Eastern Conference on Friday, leading the Cavs to a 113-87 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the conference finals.
James scored a postseason-high 33 points in the win, adding his jump shot (he was 3-for-6 from 3-point range) to what was already a potent mix on the Cavs' end of the floor. In going 12-2 through the East, Cleveland scored 116.2 points per 100 possessions against three above-average defenses, including what was -- in Atlanta -- the league's best defense since Christmas. In the last 20 years, no team has been so efficient through the first three rounds of the postseason.
Nightly Notable: LeBron James
LeBron James scores 33 points, grabs 11 rebounds and hands out six assists to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Toronto Raptors.
The Cavs' defense has come and gone in these playoffs. It didn't need to better than mediocre in the first two rounds and got exposed by the Raptors in Games 3 and 4 of the conference finals. It certainly won't be able to shut down the Warriors or Thunder in The Finals.
But the offense has been plenty potent enough to make up for the Cavs' shortcomings on the other end of the floor. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love aren't going to lock you down, but they will get buckets. The pair combined for 50 points on 17-for-35 shooting on Friday. When the Cavs' big three went to the bench for good with just over three minutes left in Game 6, they had only two fewer points (83) than the Raptors did (85).
At this point last year, Irving was battling injuries and would eventually be lost in Game 1 of The Finals, while Love's season was already done. Now, they're both a big part of the postseason's best offense by a wide margin, having scored 20 points in the same game six times in these playoffs after doing it only five times in 49 games together in the regular season.
"We wouldn't be at this point, going to The Finals, without those two," James said after Game 6. "Throughout the first three rounds, they've been the reason why we've played at such a high level. They've accepted the challenge."
Not only are Irving and Love playing some of their best basketball of the season, but the Cavs have a second unit (James with four reserves) that drove the Toronto defense nuts all series.
Really, the Cavs' starters have been strong offensively all season. But the second unit's ability to keep things rolling offensively has made a big difference. James at the high post with four shooters around him has become virtually impossible to guard, and the Cavs have found the right mix to start the second and fourth quarters at the right time of year. On more than one occasion, the offense has been so good with Channing Frye on the floor that Love has stayed on the bench throughout the fourth.
"You're going to need everything hitting on all cylinders to win a championship," Richard Jefferson, part of that second unit, said Friday. "And when you can find a group, a second unit, that plays well, that can give you good minutes and even win games for you, that's a luxury that not a lot of teams have."
There were times in Game 6 when the Raptors defended well, only to have Irving or J.R. Smith or Channing Frye hit a tough shot in their face. When they moved the ball, the Cavs got good shots. And when they took bad shots, they made those too.
"It wasn't the sets, it was the individuals," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said about how difficult it was to game plan against the Cavs. "They present a lot of problems. Just a lot of it is their personnel and the placement of their personnel."
The Raptors were forced to pick their poison all series long. In the first two games, they tried to take away the Cavs' threes and just got destroyed at the rim. Eventually, the 3s came back.
There's only one LeBron James. Everybody in that organization, their level has gone up because he's on their team.
– Raptors coach Dwane Casey
DeMarre Carroll has been here before. This is the second straight year that he's lost to Cleveland in the conference finals. And though his team won a couple of games this time, he believes the Cavs are more dangerous than they were a year ago.
"I can for sure say that they're totally a different team than they were last year, when I was with Atlanta," Carroll said. "They got a lot more weapons. They got a lot better veterans, from Channing Frye to Jefferson. They got a complete team.
"They didn't go over the [salary] cap for no reason. They're playing great basketball right now."
Yes, the Cavs have the second biggest payroll in NBA history. And yes, that they're back in The Finals isn't much of a surprise. But none of that will matter if they can complete the journey this time.
The Cavs are 7-0 at home in these playoffs and will have home-court advantage in The Finals if the Thunder can win one more game. Their next opponent will obviously be the toughest they've faced thus far, but they're playing their best, and they have the guy who has been the best player on six straight Finals teams, playing with the right kind of personnel around him.
"There's only one LeBron James," Casey said. "I wouldn't trade any of our players, but you put him on any team in this league and he's going to be a difference maker. Everybody in that organization, their level has gone up because he's on their team."
They have just one more level to go.
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