James was sublime in leading the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors 132-129 on Wednesday, notching 35 points, 17 assists and zero turnovers – the first time a player has had 35-15-0 in NBA history.
It was a timely reminder that while the Raptors have been the frontrunners in the East this season, James, who has reached seven straight NBA Finals, is still the man to beat.
Toronto have met their end at the hands of James the past two seasons, having fallen in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 before being swept last year.
So for everything they’ve accomplished this season, until the Raptors overcome the hurdle that is James in the playoffs, they’ll still have something to prove.
James, however, dismissed the idea that his performance was a reminder of what couple be in store for Toronto once again in the postseason.
“It’s a good win for us because of how depleted we are on our roster and everything that’s been going on,” he said. “It’s a good win for us against a very good opponent. But I don’t need to remind anybody about what my teams are capable of doing. So, that wasn’t a factor.”
It wasn’t just the fact that Cleveland won that was significant, but how they won.
The Raptors ran up 79 points in the first half alone to open up a 15-point gap at the intermission. Yet the Cavaliers stormed back with a pair of 34-point quarters as James put in an inspired effort to power them to victory, all while missing five rotation players – Larry Nance Jr, Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson and Kyle Korver.
LeBron James is the third player in past 10 seasons to record 17 (or more) assists without a turnover in a game.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 22, 2018
Chris Paul did it twice during the 2016-17 season.
Rajon Rondo did it twice (once in 2010, once in 2014). pic.twitter.com/vGJQg1QdXl
“They’re still a hell of a team; you can’t take anything away from them,” Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan said. “They’re still a top team in our conference and in this league. You can’t overlook ’em or underlook ’em – no type of way, no matter what type of changes they make.”
Of course, the Raptors’ increased hopes this season haven’t just been due to their own transformation, but also a result of the Cavaliers woes.
Cleveland were stuck in a mediocre state with the first iteration of their roster until the trade deadline, when they swapped several players to get younger and bring new energy.
Since then, they’ve continued to have their ups and downs while compiling a 10-7 record, but interim coach Larry Drew believes the win over Toronto may have been a turning point.
“I always say there is one game during the season that changes your team,” Drew said. “That game can be early, it can be midway, it can be late. There’s always one game that kind of changes your team, the mindset. And I really believe tonight’s game might have done that for us.”
The Cavaliers only have 11 games left in the season, but considering their history of flipping the switch in the playoffs, beating the Raptors may be a springboard to a strong finish down the stretch.
Know more about Sport360 Application