The Cavs closed up their series against the Raptors last night in convincing fashion, crushing Toronto down the stretch of game four to complete their second 4-0 sweep in two rounds.
The Cavaliers will now move on to the Eastern Conference Finals, a place they’ve been each of the last three years, and a place LeBron James has been past in seven straight seasons. This particular trip is even more demoralizing for the Eastern Conference than years past, however.
After taking the NBA Championship a year ago, James and company stumbled down the stretch post-All Star Break, barely staying above .500 in their back half of the season, and dropping the two seed in the East. The defense was in ruin, and the offense was out of shorts. Everything about the Cavs looked worse than the ones of last year, and every sports writer was wondering aloud if this was King James last stand.
LeBron James feeds his raptors a steady diet of Ls pic.twitter.com/kjvrgbu7a6
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) May 7, 2017
But Playoffs Cavs kicked in, with James and the offense riding out a wave of momentum en route to the a 2-0 lead against the Pacers that looked bad. The Cavs defense gave up bunches of points, and came just a CJ Miles miss away from a split series. Game three was different, with the Cavs blowing the doors off of the Pacers in the final quarter with clamped defense, the first we’d seen in months from this Cavs roster. And game four largely went the same way, with the Cavs closing down the stretch behind solid defense.
But in Toronto, the Cavs were supposed to get their greatest threat. The Raptors took Cleveland to six games a year ago in the Eastern Conference Finals, and had them 2-2. The Raptors traded for pieces aimed specifically at stopping James and the Cavs, and were largely considered better. And we’ve talked about what was thought of Cleveland.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 8, 2017
But game one blew that all out the window, with the Cavs throttling Toronto in humiliating fashion, and followed it up with a second beat down in game two. Still, the general perception was that the Raptors would put up a fight in the two in Toronto, and we’d see Cleveland finally pushed.
That push never came though, with the Cavs eviscerating the one team that everyone has pegged as their top challenger the last two seasons. Even crazier, it’s thought that Cleveland, even before the series, had not minded falling to the two seed because they wanted Toronto.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Cavs did get worse this season compared to a year ago. But LeBron James didn’t.
James has put out his best statistical season of his career this season, and arguably his best playoffs.
James is scoring like crazy, averaging 34.4 PPG, tops in the remaining players in the playoffs. Couple that with 9 rebounds and 7.1 assists. James is flirting with a triple double each night, and his crashing of the glass is at a rate we haven’t seen since his brief power forward days in Miami.
His defense has carried the load for the Cavs as well, throwing up 1.5 block and 2.1 steals per game, and taking the ticket on the best players on each offense each and every night. He thoroughly locked up Paul George in the fourth quarter, including in game two and three without a struggling Kyrie and Love on the floor. And in the Raptors series, it was James who frustrated DeRozan and the wings.
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 7, 2017
But on offense, he’s been even better. James has put up 56% from the field and 47% from three. That’s by FAR the best three point percentage of his career, and it’s been the backbreaker for two teams.
James has carried an offensive load despite Kyrie Irving being wildly inconsistent, and little to no bench production around him. He’s taken Deron Williams and Kyle Korver and turned them into amazing pieces in his second unit lineups, with him posting nearly 38 minutes per game.
James has more of a burden on him in these playoffs than he’s had since the 2015 Finals, and he’s taking it better than ever before.
James is 32 years old this year, and he was supposed to turn into a power forward as time went on. Yet James is only getting better, and the Cavaliers are one series against an overmatched Wizards or Celtics team away from further securing LeBron’s legacy.
Cavaliers’ LeBron James on his preferred East finals opponent, Celtics or Wizards: “It doesn’t matter.” pic.twitter.com/4BB6r5XaC9
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 7, 2017