Back on the playoff stage, where he’s starred so many times before, LeBron James is making things look easy.
James scored 39 points, hopped Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the career playoff scoring list and pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 125-103 blowout over the Toronto Raptors in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Wednesday night.
And while he may not win another regular-season MVP, James is again showing that May and June belong to him.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said, downplaying his break-neck start to this postseason. “Just blessed I’m able to make a few plays tonight to help us win another game.”
Just like a year ago in the conference finals, the Cavs are up 2-0 on the Raptors, who had better figure some things out or this series will be over quickly. Toronto was blown out for the fifth straight time in Cleveland in the playoffs, losing each by an average of 24.2 points.
“We take our butt whupping and head home,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey.
Game 3 is Friday night at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, where the Raptors will have the crowd on their side.
However, they won’t have James, who has won a road game in 27 consecutive series and appears determined to toss Toronto aside. He finished 10 of 14 from the field, dropped four 3-pointers and 15 free throws.
“He did miss six free throws,” cracked Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. “He’s playing unbelievable. He’s playing like LeBron James. We got to figure out a way to not let him beat us, which is easier said than done.”
In Cleveland’s last nine playoff wins, James is averaging 34.9 points, 10 rebounds and 8.1 assists.
Kyrie Irving had 22 points and 11 assists and Channing Frye scored 18 points for the reigning champions, who are 6-0 so far defending their title. Cleveland is 9-0 since losing Game 4 of last year’s NBA Finals.
“They’re defending champs and that’s what they look like right now,” Lowry said.
The Raptors didn’t start Jonas Valanciunas, but he led them with 23 points. Toronto only got five points from All-Star DeMar DeRozan, who didn’t make his first field goal until the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Of bigger concern might be the status of Lowry, who sprained his left ankle in the third quarter. Lowry scored 20 points but spent the fourth quarter in the locker room icing his ankle.
“It’s pretty sore,” Lowry said after limping onto the postgame podium. “It’s painful, but I’m not going to complain about it. Get treatment and get ready to play in Game 3.”
James came in needing 25 points to pass Abdul-Jabbar, and he overtook the Hall of Fame center with a 3-pointer in the third quarter, when he scored 17 and helped the Cavs open a 26-point lead. James (5,777 points) now only trails Michael Jordan (5,987), the player to whom he has been compared since he was a teenager, for the most points in postseason history.
“You hear a name like Kareem, a guy who’s done so many great things, not only as an individual but as a teammate,” James said. “Winning championships in the `80s and things of that nature and how many points he’s put up. He’s somebody you read about. I didn’t get an opportunity to actually watch him play growing up, but I just read about his accomplishments and things he was able to do, so, it’s pretty cool.”
Raptors: In part because of the small lineup, Toronto was outrebounded 13-2 in the first quarter. … Toronto lost the first two games in Cleveland last year by a combined 50 points. This year, 33. “The series has gone nowhere,” Casey said. “They played well, we shake their hand. They played well, but we haven’t scratched the surface of where we can go.”
Cavaliers: Frye made five 3s and the Cavs made their first eight while going 18 of 33 from long range. … Dating to 2015, Cleveland is 30-4 — 17-1 at home — against Eastern Conference teams in the postseason. … James also became the fourth player with 300 career 3-pointers in the postseason, joining Ray Allen (385), Reggie Miller (320) and Manu Ginobili (312).
Casey started a smaller lineup, benching the 7-foot Valanciunas and forward DeMarre Carroll in favor of guard Norman Powell and forward Patrick Patterson. He also moved Serge Ibaka from power forward to center.
The moves gave Toronto more ball handlers and opened the floor on offense. But they didn’t work simply because the Raptors couldn’t contain James.
Casey, though, is confident his team can go home like it did last year and even the series.
“I believe in our players,” he said. “I believe in our guys. I know there is another level we can get to. I’ve seen it before.”
Cleveland’s defensive game plan to double-team and trap DeRozan has worked to a charm. He missed his first nine shots and finished 2 of 11.
“It sucks,” he said. “To lose like we did and to play like I did, it sucks. It’s frustrating.”
Casey didn’t complain about the officiating, but he did point out that James attempted 21 free throws and the Raptors took 19.
James is 12-0 with Cleveland in a series when leading 2-0 and 19-0 overall.