The Cleveland Cavaliers put the Raptors to the sword for the third straight year Monday, posting a 128-93 blowout win to end Toronto’s record-breaking season with a sweep in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Toronto’s so-called culture reset, sharing the ball and firing three-pointers, led to a franchise-record 59 wins in the regular season. But it was the same old story in the post-season with no answers for LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
In a must-win game with their season on the line, the Raptors were eviscerated.
Cleveland led by four after the first quarter, 16 at the half and 28 after three. The Raptors defence was shredded with the Cavaliers racking up 100 points in the first three quarters on 63.9 per cent shooting.
Raptors star DeMar DeRozan’s miserable series continued as he was ejected for a flagrant foul-2 with 23 seconds left in the third for catching Jordan Clarkson, who was soaring to the basket, on the head with his arm. He finished with 13 points on five-of-11 shooting.
James had 29 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds and showed off more than few party tricks with Cleveland turning the screw on the Raptors as the game wore on. He had 15 points in the third quarter to hammer the nail into the Toronto coffin.
Kevin Love added 23 for Cleveland, with all five starters in double figures.
Both the Cavs and Raptors starters watched from the bench as the final minutes unfolded, the outcome never in doubt.
Jonas Valanciunas led Toronto with 18 points. C.J. Miles had 13 while Kyle Lowry had five.
The fans at Quicken Loans Arena celebrated to the sounds of Drake’s “God’s Plan” during a timeout midway through the fourth.
Cleveland swept Toronto in the Eastern semifinals last season and 4-2 in the East final in 2016.
The Cavs advance to the Eastern Conference final for the fourth straight season and the eighth time in franchise history (1976, 1992, 2007, 2009, 2015, 2016, 2017). They will face either Boston or Philadelphia.
Cleveland won the first two games in Toronto 113-112 in overtime and 128-110 before edging the Raptors 105-103 on James’ memorable off-balance buzzer-beater Saturday.
James scored 107 of the Cavs’ 346 points in those three games. He also helped set up 83 more with his 34 assists, meaning he was directly involved in 54.9 per cent of Cleveland’s points.
But his supporting crew carried the load early Monday. As in Game 3, Toronto trailed and fought back, only to have the Cavaliers respond in turn to lead 63-47 at the half.
Then it got ugly. Gliding in the air, James increased the lead to 20 at 75-55 early in the third with a double-pump bank shot that had the crowd oohing. Cleveland, having its way, increased the lead to 28 at 100-72 at the end of the third.
For the second game in a row, Toronto coach Dwane Casey changed his starting lineup. Serge Ibaka, who gave way to Fred VanVleet in Game 3, returned to start at centre in place of Valanciunas. Miles also slotted into the starting five with VanVleet back on the bench.
While Ibaka had five early points, Cleveland had success going straight through the heart of the Toronto defence _ often unimpeded. Two early fouls forced Miles to the bench before the quarter was halfway over.
Cleveland was good on 12 of its first 15 shots, mixing in some good defence to pull ahead as the first quarter wore on.
James did not figure in the Cavs’ first 15 points, with his teammates taking up the slack. DeRozan, held to just eight points and benched in the fourth quarter last time out, had seven in the first quarter.
Cleveland scored 18 of its first 26 points in the paint, prompting the introduction of Valanciunas, and led 29-19. DeRozan finished the quarter with a dunk to cap a 7-1 Toronto run that cut the Cavs’ lead to 30-26.
With Valanciunas acting as enforcer at one end and scoring at the other, Toronto closed the gap and went ahead 38-36 after a 19-7 run. But an 11-2 Cleveland run orchestrated by James and Kyle Korver got the crowd back in it and gave the Cavs a seven-point lead.
DeRozan surpassed his Game 3 total with five minutes remaining in the first half. Meanwhile Cleveland’s Korver, J.R. Smith and George Hill converted their first 12 shots combined.
An Ibaka three-pointer cut the lead to 49-45 only to have the Cavaliers grab the game by the scruff of its neck. James played provider, feeding Love with an audacious behind-the-back pass, as Cleveland went on a 14-2 run to lead 63-47 at the half.
James had 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds after 24 minutes. DeRozan, on 3-of-8 shooting, had nine points.
History was not on Toronto’s side. Teams that trail 3-0 in a best-of-seven series are now 0-130 in the NBA.
Cleveland has now won 10 straight playoff games _ and 15 of its last 17 games (regular and post-season) _ against Toronto. Cleveland is also 12-1 against Toronto at Quicken Loans Arena since December 2014.
The Raptors posted the league’s second-best record (59-23 behind Houston) in the regular season and won a franchise-high 34 games at the Air Canada Centre, tying the Rockets for the best home record.
“It’s gratification but you’re not satisfied, that’s the way I like to put it,” Casey said when the Raptors clinched first place in the East with three games remaining. “We haven’t got to where our ultimate goal is.”
They still haven’t, which means a harsh spotlight may shine on Casey.
Asked about Casey’s job security before the game, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said any talk it might be in jeopardy was absurd.
The Raptors came into Monday’s game as a 5.5-point underdog.