The Cavaliers took a commanding 3-0 series lead and have the Raptors on the brink of elimination.
USA TODAY Sports
TORONTO – With a sprained left ankle forcing Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry to watch Game 3 from the bench, the Raptors needed the very best of DeMar DeRozan to avoid a 3-0 series deficit.
DeRozan delivered with a game-high 37 points, yet it wasn’t enough.
The Cavaliers defeated the Raptors 115-94, taking a 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series.
James scored 19 of his team-high 35 points in the second half, registering his sixth game of at least 30 points in seven postseason games. James also had eight rebounds and seven assists.
Kevin Love had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Kyrie Irving scored 16 points. Kyle Korver helped spark Cleveland’s run late in the third and fourth quarters and finished with 14 points.
No team has recovered from a 3-0 deficit in NBA playoff history, and the Cavs can close out the series in Game 4 on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) with the possibility of getting another week of rest before the start of the conference finals.
“We do not need to be thinking about a sweep or getting rest,” James said. “We need to be thinking about what we need to do to execute defensively and offensively coming into Sunday.”
The Cavs improved to 31-4 in the Eastern Conference playoffs since James returned to Cleveland for LeBron 2.0. James has been unstoppable in the postseason, averaging 34.3 points, nine rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.6 blocks and shooting 56.6% from the field and 48.6% on three-pointers. In the past two games, James is 30-for-37 from the foul line.
It was a complete performance from the Cavaliers, though the Raptors were much better at home than the first two games on the road. The result was the same, and every game has been decided by double digits.
Toronto led at halftime and had a 70-69 advantage with 3:09 left in the third quarter. Then, the Cavaliers took over with a 30-10 run, and James and Kyle Korver each scored nine points during the run.
“I like our fight. I love the way our guys competed, and there was no back down,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That stretch in the beginning of the fourth quarter is what got us.”
During a 20-3 run to start the fourth quarter, Cleveland shot 5-for-5 from the field, including two three-pointers, and made 8-of-9 foul shots. They also held Toronto to 1-for-12 shooting.
“They were really locked in,” DeRozan said. “We couldn’t hit any shots, not just myself but as a team. … They turned it up offensively and ran away with it.”
Three-point shooting played a pivotal role. The Raptors missed their first 12 three-point attempts and finished just 2-for-18 (11.1%) from beyond the arc. Of those 18, 17 were uncontested, according to STATS SportVU Data. Cleveland, one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league, shot 13-for-23 (56.5%).
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Casey wanted more three-point shooting from his team and didn’t get it.
“That’s the difference in our games. They’re knocking down their threes and we’re not,” Casey said before Game 3. “We’re not even taking our opportunities when they’re there. And they’re there. The way they’re playing us, they’re presenting three-point opportunities and our three-point shooters have to take them and make them.”
In the series, the difference is even more stark. The Cavaliers have outscored the Raptors 135-51 on three-pointers, and Cleveland is shooting 50% and Toronto 27.9%. In the playoffs, a team can’t win in today’s NBA with those kind of numbers from three-point range.
“That’s what we do,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We shoot threes and we play fast and we want to push the tempo and we have great three-point shooters. That’s the makeup of our team, and that’s how we want to play. That’s just how we’re built.”
Said DeRozan: “When you see them knocking down threes left and right (and) getting to their spots, it’s deflating.”
Cleveland also outrebounded Toronto 49-25.
Toronto faced a difficult task to start the series and not having a healthy Lowry makes it a near-impossible task against the Cavaliers, who are playing the best basketball in the East right now.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt