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There’s no way around it: We are witnessing history with every passing performance by LeBron James, who continued the expansion of his already enormous legacy on Saturday night in Cleveland.
The four-time MVP put the Raptors on the brink of extinction, breaking their hearts with a jaw-dropping, buzzer-beating runner after they’d rallied to tie the game after trailing the entire way.
The Wine & Gold have now taken nine straight Playoff contests over Dwane Casey’s squad, which has to be searching for answers after altering their entire approach this season with one goal in mind.
In Saturday’s thriller, the Cavaliers led for the first 47 minutes and 52 seconds before Raptors rookie OG Anunoby drilled a game-tying triple. That set up LeBron’s incredible game-winner as the Wine & Gold survived what would have been a crushing loss – having squandered a 14-point second-half lead and 38-point fourth quarter with DeMar DeRozan on the bench.
The Raptors' backs are truly against the wall now, and they’ll have to pull out all the stops just to survive on Monday night. The Cavaliers, coming off a bare-knuckle seven-game series against Indiana, would love to complete their second-straight sweep of Toronto and get a few day’s rest before gearing up for the winner of Sixers-Celtics.
At this rate, writers will simply run out of superlatives for LeBron James’ nightly Playoff heroics.
On Saturday night at The Q, the King continued his reign of terror against what has to be a stunned Raptors squad, who come into Monday’s game looking to hold off a Cleveland team building steam.
In the Game 3 nail-biter, the 13-time All-Star 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.
LeBron has now led the Wine & Gold in scoring and assists in 11-straight postseason contests, surpassing Oscar Robertson for the longest such streak in NBA history and his 348 points through the first 10 games of the Playoffs is the highest total since Michael Jordan piled up 354 (including 190 of those in the ECF against Cleveland) back in 1992.
Despite LeBron’s overall brilliance, OG Anunoby should be commended for his fight against the game’s greatest player – finishing with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting, 4-of-7 from long-range, including the game-tying three with less than 10 seconds to play.
The Wine & Gold have now taken on the Raptors in three-straight postseason tournaments, and it seems like a rarity that we’ve written “Toronto’s All-Star backcourt is consistently killing the Cavs.”
Both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have had great regular seasons and are both great players, but they’ve haven’t both put it together on a steady basis against the Cavaliers.
That was again the case on Saturday night – with Kyle Lowry nearly rallying the Raptors past Cleveland while DeRozan watched from the sidelines.
In the Game 3 thriller, Dwane Casey went with a lineup change – moving Fred VanVleet to the starting five. The undrafted sophomore from Wichita State struggled – finishing with eight points in 33 minutes, going 1-for-7 from long-range.
But DeRozan’s night was even worse. The four-time All-Star – who still hasn’t hit a three-pointer in the series – went just 3-of-12 from the floor through the first three quarters and sat out the fourth, finishing with eight points in the loss.
Lowry has been good throughout the series and finally put together a solid second-half performance on Saturday night – netting 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 Toronto with seven assists.
Kevin Love must’ve felt like a weight was lifted from his shoulders after the Wine & Gold put Indiana in the rear view mirror. The Pacers were a rough matchup for Love, and he struggled to find his shot and his confidence throughout the First Round.
But Cleveland’s five-time All-Star is beginning to look like himself again – and that’s been bad news for the Raptors.
On Saturday night, Love followed up his big 31-point night in Game 2 with another rock-solid showing in Game 3 – 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.
In the process, the 10-year veteran moved past Brad Daugherty and into fourth on the franchise’s all-time Playoff scoring list and past Kyrie Irving and into third place on the list of postseason three-pointers.
Love has doubled-up in two of the first three games of the series, but his opposite – Jonas Valanciunas – has done so in all three games (with varying degrees of effectiveness).
In the first game of the series, the Lithuanian big man went off for 21 points and 21 boards. That fell to 16 points and 12 rebounds in Game 2 and 10/11 in Game 3.
What started as a mismatch in the middle going in Toronto’s favor to start the Semis has shifted to the Cavaliers’ over the past two contests – and if that trend continues tonight, the Wine & Gold just might be moving on.
For all the talk about the Raptors re-tooled bench heading into the postseason, the most consistent reserve in the series so far has been Cleveland’s Jeff Green.
Despite both being ranked among the league’s top seven second units during the regular season, Toronto’s bench dominated Cleveland’s, outscoring it by an average of 59.0-30.0 through three regular season meetings.
But things have a way of evening themselves out in the Playoffs, and the Raptors simply haven’t gotten consistent firepower out of any of their second unit players.
C.J. Miles saw 34 minutes of action, spelling an ineffective DeMar DeRozan on Saturday night – with the former Cavalier chipping in with 13 points, going 4-of-7 from long-range in the loss.
Serge Ibaka posted his first double-digit performance since Game 2 of the First Round while Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl were non-factors.
The Cavaliers reserves, as a group, haven’t exactly torn it up in the Playoffs.
Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood still haven’t fully found their rhythm from the regular season and Larry Nance Jr. has seen exactly 2:34 of garbage time in the Second Round.
Jeff Green, however, has been outstanding on both ends off the bench here in the Conference Semis – netting double-figures in all three games, averaging 13.7 points per – shooting 58 percent from the floor and an even 50 percent from long-distance in the series.