For as well as the Toronto Raptors have played at home in this Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers, there is one behemoth working against them entering tonight’s Game 6 — LeBron James.
History indicates James’ sixth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals is inevitable at this point. When presented with an opportunity to close out a series, James is 5-0 since returning to Cleveland.
The last time he had a chance to eliminate a team and lost was the 2014 conference semifinals, when the Miami Heat dropped Game 5 to the Indiana Pacers. No problem, James and the Heat simply did it in Game 6.
Since leaving Cleveland to join the Heat, James is 19-4 in closeout games. When presented with multiple opportunities to close out a series — the situation the Cavs face entering Game 6 — James has never in his career lost a series. Never.
And he’s never seemed overly concerned with the Raptors in this one, either. The Cavs’ two most lopsided postseason victories have now come in this series.
“I’ve been a part of some really adverse situations, and I just didn’t believe that this was one of them,” James said after Game 5.
“From the very moment that we lost Game 4, I was just very calm about the whole situation.”
James has won a road playoff game in 24 consecutive playoff series, a streak that will be broken should the Cavs lose Game 6. Their odds of losing this series, however, decreased dramatically with that Game 5 victory when James stuck with Kevin Love and he delivered.
“LeBron is a winner and he understands what it takes to win,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.
“Right now just showing his confidence in his teammates has really gone a long way. These guys are playing at a high level, Kevin and Kyrie along with other guys, are playing well. LeBron understands to win a championship you need everyone.”
James, Love and Irving all surpassed 20 points again Wednesday in less than three quarters of play. James has remained adamant he has sensed no need to take over a playoff game yet and likely won’t change his mind for Game 6. The Cavs have thrived in this postseason with James scaling back and relying heavily on Love and Irving. He’s not going to change that now.
“We didn’t get to this point in our season by me taking over every game,” James said. “I kind of laugh at it when I hear from you guys, when I do my media availability, people saying, ‘take over the game.’ My presence on the floor is much bigger than what numbers talk about.
“When you have a young superstar like this guy (Irving), you have Kevin, who’s a superstar as well, and they’ve helped us get to this point, so you don’t just (panic) because we lose two games or we didn’t play as well as we could. There may be a time when I may have to have one of those big games, but until then, just relax.”
The Raptors return to Air Canada Centre clinging to their two regular-season wins over the Cavs and their two postseason victories.
None have been nearly as emphatic or impressive as the Cavs’ double-digit home wins in this series, but they’re victories nonetheless.
Now they need to squeeze out one more to keep their season alive.
“It was embarrassing the way we played, but it’s only one game,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s still 3-2 and, yes, they spanked us here, but also we won two games in Toronto. We go away with that confidence.”