The Cleveland Cavaliers outclassed their opponent for the 10th straight game in the playoffs, taking a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals with a 108-89 victory. LeBron James continued to do whatever his team needed, recording his 15th career playoff triple-double: 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds while passing Shaquille O'Neal for fourth all-time on the career playoff scoring list. James shot 7-for-13, but missed eight of his 17 free throws -- his numbers could have looked even better.
Three things to know:
1. The Cavaliers look unstoppable
They're not making 3s like they did in the first two series, but they don't have to. No one else in the league is dominating offensively the way they are, and it's not like they've been going up against terrible defensive teams.
It starts with James, obviously: the Raptors can't guard him one-on-one, even though DeMarre Carroll was signed partially for that reason. When they send help, James either bullies his way to the basket anyway or finds an open teammate. The vast majority of the time, Cleveland winds up with an easy basket.
"It's crazy even to watch it," Cavaliers big man Channing Frye said in his postgame interview on TSN. "[The Big 3] know we're here for them and make sure they don't get double-teamed. We're just out here making shots and having fun."
The Cavs have yet to be held under 100 points in the postseason. Kyrie Irving is being decisive with the ball in his hands, Kevin Love is picking his spots and their shooters are moving to open spaces and letting it fly without hesitation. Toronto has been blown out twice in a row, but unlike Game 1, it did not play terribly this time. To beat Cleveland, though, the Raptors will have to be almost flawless. They cannot afford to miss many open looks or send the Cavs to the line 37 times, as they did Thursday.
Toronto fans have to be hoping that Jonas Valanciunas will return to the lineup and change everything. According to ESPN's Mike Breen, the big man has already been ruled out for Game 3. As great as Valanciunas has been, though, his presence alone likely will not make all that much difference. It would be nice if the Raptors could feed him the ball on the inside, but it's hard to see how he would help them contain the Cavaliers on the other end.
Atlanta Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore appeared on NBA TV's The Starters on Wednesday and talked about Cleveland. He said that Game 1 of the conference finals "kind of put me at ease a little bit because we lost by the 3, but they did pretty much whatever they wanted" against Toronto. He also called James a house that moves like a gazelle. The Hawks should not be embarrassed -- they just couldn't slow down James, and it is clear that they were not on Cleveland's level. The Raptors have not been, either.
If Toronto does not respond with a home win on Saturday, it will be time to start asking if the Cavaliers should be considered the favorites for the title. I have my doubts about them being able to do this against the Golden State Warriors' "death lineup," but I didn't think they'd steamroll through the East like this, either.
2. Kyle Lowry's slump is back
The Raptors' best player has lost his mojo again, and that's a massive problem. Lowry was instrumental in getting Toronto over the hump against the Miami Heat, finishing the second-round series off with a 35-point, nine-assist, seven-rebound performance in the biggest win in Toronto franchise history. That was special stuff, and the Raptors are desperate for more of it.
Lowry shot 4 for 14 in this loss, just like he did on Tuesday. He went 1 for 8 from 3-point range, and is now 1 for 15 in the series. He also had five turnovers in the first half alone. It sounds reductive, but if Lowry does not play like an All-Star, it is hard to see Toronto having a chance. Raptors coach Dwane Casey called him their motor, their engine and their leader after the game. Those things are all true, and his struggles can affect the whole team.
Irving thoroughly outplayed Lowry again, finishing with a game-high 26 points on 12-for-22 shooting. Going into the series, it looked like Irving would be the one at a disadvantage defensively, but instead Lowry has had trouble keeping Irving out of the paint. Casey said that the team in general let its poor offense affect its defensive energy, and he said that Lowry was one of the culprits.
3. Will Toronto at any point start making some 3s?
When you're outmatched talent-wise, it's generally a good idea to get up as many 3s as possible, as long as they're in rhythm. The good news for the Raptors is they are finding those open looks. The bad news is they are not making them, and it's not just on Lowry. Toronto went 9 for 33 overall from deep, and role players like Carroll, Luis Scola and Cory Joseph are consistently being ignored on the perimeter.
Carroll's inability to capitalize, in particular, is a concern, and it's enough to make you wonder just how healthy he is feeling these days. He has shot 1 for 6 from deep in these two games combined. It's not easy to get your legs under you when you're guarding James on the other end, but the Raptors need him to give them something on the offensive end.