WASHINGTON—With LeBron James producing another overpowering performance, the Cleveland Cavaliers routed Toronto 108-89 Thursday, stretching their playoff record to 10-0 and moving closer to an NBA Finals return.
James scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and passed out 11 assists as the host Cavaliers, who swept through the first two playoff rounds, seized a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals with game three Saturday at Toronto.
“We’re just a well-balanced, (well-)oiled machine,” James said. “You have to do multiple things depending on how the series and the games go and we’ve been able to do that.”
Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 26 points and Kevin Love added 19 for Cleveland, whose run is one shy of the NBA record playoff start of 11-0 achieved by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989 and 2001.
“It’s always difficult to deal with me,” four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James said. “It adds even more when you have two all-stars with you who command multiple eyes every possession. They are in such a great rhythm I can do other things to help us win.”
“This is the best I’ve felt in a while. When you have two guys like this to help you, it takes a lot of things off you.”
The Cavaliers are two wins from facing the Western Conference champion, either Oklahoma City or defending NBA champion Golden State, in the NBA Finals that begin on June 2.
Cleveland lost to Golden State in last year’s NBA Finals, but Love was out with an injury and Irving went down with an injury in game one.
“We just do a great job of having each other’s backs,” said Irving. “We missed our chance last year and we want to make the most of this time.”
The Cavaliers have led Toronto by 10 or more points throughout the second half in both games and Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue, the first NBA coach to win his first 10 playoff games, credits Irving and Love for helping ease the load on James.
“When Kevin and Kyrie are playing at a high level it opens the floor for LeBron. He can take a game over,” Lue said. “The better the team performs, the easier it is on him.”
Rested LeBron lethal
The playoff victory was Cleveland’s 17th in a row over foes from the same conference, the longest such NBA streak since 1970-71.
“I don’t think it feels like a streak,” James said. “We won one game. How do we get better the next game? We haven’t overlooked any steps. That’s why we’re in the position we are. We’ve enjoyed the process.”
James, seeking a sixth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals after four years with Miami and last year, is hitting 18-of-26 from the field, dominating Toronto inside.
“Great teammates are getting me open,” James said. “I’m trying to be aggressive, see what the defense is giving me. Everyone is feeding off one another.” AFP
James had his 15th career “triple double” -- double-figure statistics in three categories -- and passed Shaquille O’Neal to reach fourth on the NBA career playoff scoring list.
“It’s a tribute to the player LeBron has been,” Lue said. “When you are a winner like LeBron, you have to expect milestones.”
Cavs sparked by 16-2 run
The Cavaliers closed the second quarter with a 16-2 run to seize a 62-48 half-time edge.
“We made some adjustments, changed our defense, got a little more physical -- that was a big spark,” Lue said of that stretch.
James had 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the first half.
“All great players are going to be playing at that level at this time of year,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He’s not doing anything we didn’t expect.”
The Raptors, led by DeMar DeRozan’s 22 points, suffered their first back-to-back losses of the playoffs.
Kyle Lowry, who scored 43 against the Cavaliers in a regular-season game, had only 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting Thursday but vowed he would bounce back.
“I’ll find ways,” Lowry said. “I know I can be more effective and I will be more effective on Saturday. Their defense is active and rotating but I’ve been missing shots I won’t be missing anymore.”
And he remains optimistic the Raptors can reach the finals.
“I’m super confident,” he said. “I’m not down on myself. I don’t need much motivation on Saturday.”