TORONTO: LeBron James exited the game with three minutes left and began celebrating. He hugged his coach, hugged teammates and even hugged Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan. There was plenty of reason to celebrate.
The Cavaliers are going back to the NBA Finals.
James scored 33 points – his first 30-point game of these playoffs – and the Cavaliers beat the Toronto Raptors 113-87 Friday in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, sending them to the NBA Finals for the second time in as many years.
It is James’ sixth consecutive trip to the Finals, the most for any player in NBA history since Bill Russell’s dynasty with the Boston Celtics in the 1960s. He is 2-4 in the Finals. It marks the Cavs’ third trip to the Finals – all in the last 10 years. They are still seeking their first title in franchise history, along with the quest of ending Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.
James spoke Friday morning of playing with a sense of urgency, of treating this like a Game 7 in order to avoid having to play an actual Game 7 Sunday at home. Then they went out and delivered.
Kyrie Irving had 30 points and nine assists, while Kevin Love scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. The Cavs improved to 6-0 this postseason when all three of their stars score at least 20 points.
James made three 3-pointers, but otherwise attacked the basket on a night the Raptors were helpless to stop him. The Cavs’ Big Three totaled 83 points, 27 rebounds and 19 assists in the win. J.R. Smith scored 15 points – all on 3-pointers.
The Cavs raced out to an early lead Friday after two lackluster losses in their previous playoff games in this building. James played all but 37 seconds in the first half, while J.R. Smith and Love each made 3-pointers in the final 70 seconds of the second quarter to give the Cavs a 55-41 lead at the half.
They extended it to 21 in the third quarter, although the Raptors pulled within 86-74 at the end of the third with James on the bench and DeRozan’s jumper to start the fourth pulled them within 10. They didn’t get any closer. Coach Tyronn Lue pulled his starters with 3:07 left and the Cavs ahead 108-85.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey spoke Friday of trying to take advantage of the times James wasn’t on the floor, but those moments are growing increasingly rare. He played 35 of the game’s first 36 minutes, resting for less than a minute in both the second and third quarters.
DeRozan scored 20 points and Kyle Lowry had 35 for the Raptors, who put up a valiant effort through six games and never quit. Ultimately, however, the Cavs were simply too talented to stop.
They shot 55 percent on 3-pointers (17-of-31) and closed this series 27-of-52 from 3-point range over the last two games, displaying the type of sharpshooting that carried them to this point.
Now the Cavs will sit back and wait to learn who they’ll be playing. An Oklahoma City Thunder victory in Game 5 on Sunday will give the Cavs home-court advantage, meaning Game 1 of the Finals would be Thursday in Cleveland. If the Golden State Warriors win the next two against the Thunder, James and the Cavs will open on the road Thursday in a rematch of last year’s Finals.