When the Cavaliers want to win, and LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are all playing, one thing is becoming clear: Not too many people are going to stop them. Perhaps no one will.
Without a doubt, we are now seeing the fruits of the Cavs’ Big Three. The latest example came Wednesday at Toronto, where the Cavs escaped with a 120-112 win.
And it really was an escape — as the Cavs led by 19 points in the second half, only to squander the whole thing in the fourth quarter. But as the Raptors discovered, these Cavs just have too many weapons, too many guys who do too many things.
Mostly, the Cavs have too many pieces that just fit too well around the Big Three.
So let’s start with James and Irving and Love, because they truly are the heart of this operation. As great as James is, he typically needs the other two.
Anyone could see that Wednesday, as James deferred to his teammates and the Cavs built a 57-43 halftime advantage.
Then, when things started to get shaky in the fourth quarter, James did what a four-time MVP does in such situations. He grabbed the game by the throat — scoring 15 points in the final 12 minutes, and becoming the one guy who could lock down hot-shooting Raptors reserve Lou Williams.
LeBron, who finished with 29 points and 14 assists, is a champion. He is showing the others what that means. Finally, it seems, they are getting the hang of it.
"We understand what point of the season we’re in, and understanding that our process is a lot different from other teams, because we’re a first-year unit," James explained. "It starts with me. I have to be locked in from the time I walk in the arena, and just try to make plays to help our team win."
Irving (26 points, eight assists) and Love (22 points, 10 rebounds) were just as vital. Each buried several shots that can single-handedly snap an opponent’s spirit. Each played off James with great confidence, great understanding that these are the types of games you don’t let slip away.
The Raptors, of course, are no joke. James acknowledged the Raptors have indeed struggled lately, and that they were missing star point guard Kyle Lowry. But James still viewed this as a good barometer for the Cavs. The game was on the home floor of a team that entered the night as the No. 2 seed in the East. You beat a team like the Raptors, and you have a right to leave town with a Clint Eastwood-tough-guy squint in your eye.
"I’m very proud," James told FOX Sports Ohio. "Every test is another opportunity to see where we are."
And where are the Cavs? Try winners of 20 of their past 24 games and sporting an overall record of 39-24.
And what about when each of the Big Three plays? Try undefeated since the All-Star break, having won all six games when James, Irving and Love are on the floor together.
Of course, it’s more than just those three.
J.R. Smith (15 points) has been the steal of NBA in-season trades, becoming the explosive spot-up shooter and determined defender the Cavs’ backcourt severely lacked.
And lately, James Jones (14 points) has been a constant long-range irritant for opponents as well — as he moves to get open and drains 3-pointers at the most critical of moments.
Smith and Jones are the type of veterans who were made for games like these, games with a playoff feel, games you want to win to prove you’re the team you say you are.
"It’s enjoyable, because I know I don’t have to do that much scoring," Smith said. "I don’t have to score 15 or 20 points for us to win. I can focus on other areas, especially my defense and rebounding."
And the Big Three can focus on what they do best, too. Right now, that’s finding ways to win in nearly every situation and in any possible manner.
It’s why the Cavs wanted Love, why they were determined to keep Irving, why they are so very thankful James decided to return to the franchise that drafted him.
Mostly, as the Cavs are discovering, with those three together and at their best, this team is going places.