At least one Toronto Raptor has conceded that Cavaliers small forward LeBron James can’t be stopped.
The reason the four-time league MVP and three-time NBA champion has played so well offensively in the 2017 postseason is a bit more debatable.
“Sometimes it’s not even about LeBron,” Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan said after James had 39 points in Cleveland’s 125-103 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, which resume tonight at 7 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. “LeBron is going to be LeBron.
“You have to key on the other guys. You can’t let Channing Frye go out there and get (18) points. You can’t let other guys like that get going. If you find someone who can stop LeBron in these moments, I’ll give you $100.”
Through six postseason games, all Cleveland wins, James is averaging 34.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.8 blocks in 42.2 minutes. The highest postseason scoring average of his career came in 2008-09, when he averaged 35.3 points in 14 games.
Even more impressive, the 32-year-old is shooting .566 from the field (73-for-129), including .484 on 3-pointers (15-for-31). In Game 2 against Toronto, James scored his 39 points on just 14 shot attempts. He was 10-for-14 from the field, including 4-for-6 on 3-pointers, and 15-for-21 at the line.
Coach Tyronn Lue attributed his superstar’s playoff efficiency to the fact J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have been defending DeRozan, with Smith also guarding Indiana’s Paul George for most of the Cavs’ first-round sweep.
“You have to give credit to those guys for giving LeBron the energy to do what he’s doing,” Lue said. “When he’s able to fly around and play with that kind of pace and that kind of energy, it’s tough.”
James, who takes great pride in his defense and has frequently shut down the opposition’s top threat in the closing moments of tight games throughout his career, politely disagreed.
“I can do both,” he said of playing defense and leading the offense. “I love Ty, but I can do both.
“I’m just feeling pretty good. My teammates do a great job of putting me in a good position. My coaching staff does a great job putting me in a position to be successful. I put a lot of work into my craft. I live with the results.”
Shumpert, who had 14 points in Game 2, marveled at James’ durability and endurance.
“He comes out and plays 40 minutes, he plays 48 minutes, double overtime, triple overtime or whatever, and then the next day we walk into the (practice) place and he’s dunking after each possession.
“When you’ve got a guy like that that headlines your team, it’s hard for other guys to take a day off.”
Moving the ball
The Cavs shot .547 from the field (41-for-75) and .545 on 3-pointers (18-for-33) in Game 2, when they made their first eight attempts from beyond the arc.
Cleveland had 34 points in the first quarter and a 2017 postseason-high 37 in the third — only James (17), Kyrie Irving (15) and Tristan Thompson (five) scored — en route to a franchise playoff-record 125 points. The Cavs also recorded a 2017 playoff-high 28 assists.
“When we’re playing at a high pace, a high energy, the ball seems to hop and it finds the open shooter every single time,” Irving said. “The selflessness just starts to go throughout the entire team and we all start to feel really good.”
Truth comes out
Irving sort of came clean about the Cavs’ lack of defensive intensity in the regular season, but Cleveland has picked things up against the Raptors, holding them to 104.0 points in the series.
The Cavs have been at their best in the first quarter. Toronto scored 18 points on 7-for-21 shooting in Game 1 and 22 on 10-for-24 in Game 2. The Raptors trailed by 12 points after the first period of both games (and were down 62-48 at halftime of each).
In addition to better intensity, Irving also credited film study, preparation time and Cleveland finally showing its full defensive arsenal for the improvement.
“It’s the playoffs,” Irving said. “As much as we don’t want to make excuses for the regular season, of us not being dialed in as best we can on the defensive end, when you get a chance to watch film on a team and focus on specific plays and be able to finally show your hand — what you’re going to do defensively and what you’re going to limit them to on a game-to-game basis — we’re a better team.
“And in the playoffs we’re showing that. We’re executing on the defensive end at a very high level. But it doesn’t stop here (in Cleveland). We’ve just got to continue it and make sure we have that consistent effort going into Game 3.”
- Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who sprained his left ankle on the first possession of the third quarter but returned to play, did not practice Thursday. He was scheduled to undergo more tests.
- Cleveland has outscored Toronto 96-45 from behind the arc in the series. The Cavs are 32-for-67 (.478) and the Raptors are 15-for-43 (.349).
- Toronto coach Dwane Casey started two new forwards in Game 2. Norman Powell had six points on 3-for-6 shooting and Patrick Patterson had three on 1-for-3.