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Short and sweet: Cavs simply playing to a higher standard

Cleveland now 9-0 in playoffs after LeBron James-led 115-84 demolition of Toronto in Eastern Conference finals opener

POSTED: May 18, 2016 10:48 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


— The Cleveland Cavaliers are not interested in your entertainment.

LeBron James and the crew he is leading inexorably to another NBA Finals -- sixth in a row for him, second for most of them -- couldn't care less about drama. Tension and pressure are for the ESPN execs now, wringing their hands for how they can hold their audience when Cleveland continues to dismantle every opponent it draws in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Turn your TV off early with most playoff games and you risk waking up to a surprise. Do that with the Cavaliers these days -- including in their 115-84 pasting of the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of their conference championship series Tuesday -- and you might wind up with a raise or a promotion for how all the extra and inconsequential zzz's you got show up at your workplace.

Cavaliers on Game 1 Victory

The Cleveland Cavaliers speak with the media following their Game 1 victory.

Upsets like the one we saw out West Monday night in Oakland are great for buzz and possibilities and bold statements. But to the Cavaliers, such games literally are wastes of time. Teachable moments of the sort they are, and rightly ought to be, past.

Garbage time? One man's trash is the Cavs' treasure. They're not merely content, they're downright happy to send out their B team as soon and for as long as possible. Then when even that tilts heavily in their favor, coach Tyronn Lue runs out his C team, Cleveland's subs earning subs.

That's not to say this is grim, all business and no fun now that Cleveland has started 9-0, the first team to do so since San Antonio in 2012 and one of only five in NBA playoff history. There was excitement, there was excellence, there were highlight plays, there was passion at Quicken Loans Arena. But it was channeled and it didn't last long.

The peak moment in Game 1 came with 7:26 left in the second quarter. The Cavs were in the midst of splitting open the contest with a 22-2 run when James, starting from the left corner, blew by Toronto defender DeMarre Carroll to crank down a monstrous dunk. Didn't matter that he drew a foul -- James cut loose with a primal scream, head tilted back, and he kept up his holler celebration as he danced all the way past midcourt.

Had the Raptors, down 47-30, skulked off right then, few would have blamed them. Many in the arena wouldn't have noticed.

"Just having an opportunity to play the game that I love," James said. "In front of some unbelievable fans with some unbelievable teammates. You make plays like that, the passion that came through, it was the excitement that my teammates was good, looking over at the bench and the other four guys on the floor, and the 20,000-plus fans that was cheering us on at that time.

"So that's where it came from. You don't know when it's going to happen. Sometimes it just happens."

Our goal is not nine wins. It's just not. It's not my focus. I've won nine games in the postseason before. I've won 14 games in the postseason before. My goal as the leader of this team, I'm going to continue to make sure these guys understand what our goal is.

– Cavs forward LeBron James

By the fourth quarter, though, those blowtorch moments had given way to cool efficiency. Most of Cleveland's rotations players spent most of those 12 minutes watching from the side, their work done for the night. None of them is talking up any "fo', fo', fo', fo' " in what would be a 16-0 run to a championship and a big ol' nod to the late, great Moses Malone.

The Cavaliers aren't focused on the sweeps, however. More satisfying is the work they're putting in when no one is looking, the preparation that's paying off without convulsive adjustments, the facile manner in which they're able to adapt from 3-point sniping in the semifinals against Atlanta to a boots-on-the-ground, sneakers-in-the-paint ground game against the Raptors.

"Our goal is not nine wins," James said. "It's just not. It's not my focus. I've won nine games in the postseason before. I've won 14 games in the postseason before. My goal as the leader of this team, I'm going to continue to make sure these guys understand what our goal is. And they know. ... Tonight was just another step in the direction we want to head.

"But we will face some adversity. We will. We have to be able to handle that, which I think we'll be ready for."

Invariably, some will come. Some always does. There were chippy encounters in the third quarter Tuesday when hard fouls seemed to carry messages, ones that the Raptors have to hope they can deliver. Iman Shumpert took an ugly spill over Carroll's hip, landing with all his weight on his right leg before it bent grotesquely back. Shumpert was fine. This time.

For now, Cleveland has become what Golden State was for much of the regular season. So formidable early (24-0) and late (73-9), the Warriors have looked vulnerable of late, first through the prism of Kia MVP Stephen Curry's knee sprain and layoff, then in dropping the West opener to Oklahoma City.

Raptors on Game 1 Loss

The Toronto Raptors speak with the media following their Game 1 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Meanwhile the Cavaliers -- overshadowed for so long by the Warriors and the Spurs, disregarded because of, y'know, the East -- have everything in place. Clicking. From Lue, the underestimated coach who has tweaked their lineups and their pace, to their ability to avoid "hero ball" or takin turns through much of the postseason run, sticking with the greater plan. They score 100 or more every night now, rarely yield that many and their playoff points advantage jumped from 10.5 per game to 12.8, folding in the 31 they had to spare Tuesday.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey and several Raptors players talked about Cleveland's "fresher" and "quicker" legs, a nod to the Cavaliers' time off between series. There'll be no catching up there, though: Game 1 was Toronto's 10th in 19 days but Cleveland's first in nine days. Come Game 2, it will be 11 in 21 for Raptors, two in 11 for the Cavs. It's never going to even out and that's to Cleveland's credit, the spoils of sweeping and -- for rest not just between but within games -- amassing huge leads.

Just don't call it "rest" around James.

"We didn't rest. We just didn't have a game," the Cavs star corrected one reporter afterward. "Coach Lue gave us one day off. Other than that, we was in the gym working. Keeping our rhythm, keeping our legs ready for whenever we were going to play. So we didn't rest. We just didn't have a game in front of the cameras."

They still do like the cameras -- James in particular always seems to know where they are and understand they'll generally be trained on him -- even though their close-up count is down. The Cavaliers these days show up, they shred, then they drop off the league's postseason radar again for days, even a week at a time.

Executioners do not linger.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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