All season long the story was “these Toronto Raptors are different.” However the pretenders of the Eastern Conference were once again systematically picked apart by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a four game sweep.
In fact, the only real difference about this series is that it ended at Quicken Loans Arena instead of the Air Canada Centre.
Per usual, LeBron James was phenomenal. 34 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds on 55 percent shooting. Oh and one game winner that ripped the heart right out of the whole city of Toronto.
LeBron is a beacon of consistency. You know exactly what you will get from James. What changed from round one to round two was the role players. After a seven point Game 1, Kevin Love scored 75 points in Games 2-4. The No. 2 option finally stepped up.
Sharpshooter Kyle Korver was lights out all series. Korver scored 14.5 points per game and shot 56 percent from beyond the arc. Korver starting to heat up is just what the doctor ordered. The 37-year-old shooter cannot be left on the court. If a team leaves him, you bet LeBron will find him and he will make the opposition pay.
J.R. Swish finally found his shot. Outside of Game 3 (he scored zero points) J.R. was great. Smith recorded games of 20,15 and 15 against Toronto. More impressively in those three games, J.R. shot 77 percent (10-12) from 3-point range.
Guard George Hill also got in on the act. The 10-year veteran averaged 10.3 points, while shooting 53 percent against Toronto. With the point guard position taking a hit this season, Hill has been able to sure up that spot for Cleveland.
With these four players around James in the starting lineup, Cleveland is poised to get back to a fourth straight NBA Finals. With occasional help from Jeff Green (12 points per game vs Toronto) and Tristan Thompson, this gives Cleveland seven players to rely on.
As for the Raptors, this is yet another early exit for a team with high expectations. Toronto now has lost 10 straight playoff games against Cleveland. Something has to happen now, whether it is firing their head coach or blowing the team up, change will be brewing north of the boarder.
Just look at their reactions after James hit his unreal buzzer beater. It was the look of disbelief and frustration. Now many of you will understand why the Warriors added Kevin Durant after winning 73 games. It is because they weren’t beating LeBron without him.
Teams break up because of James, teams alter long-term plans because of James. He is the ultimate disruptive force in the NBA.
Moving on to Cleveland’s next opponent, it will likely be the Boston Celtics. This would be a rematch from last season’s Conference Final. We all know what happened in that series. The Cavaliers stomped all over the No.1 seed in a five game gentleman’s sweep.
While Boston has a talented, young core, they are up against quite the challenge. What Cleveland will need to do is not let Brad Stevens dominate Tyronn Lue. Stevens is the better coach and it will show at times in the series. However, it comes down to this, who guards LeBron on the Celtics?
Jaylen Brown has been injured, and is only 21-years-old. He is a heck of a young talent, but no match for James. Likewise for 20-year-old Jayson Tatum. His emergence this year is a big reason why the Celtics find themselves where they are. He also has no chance of guarding LeBron.
The key will obviously be whether Love, Korver, Smith and co. step up and provide help for LeBron. If they can, it likely means another trip to the Finals.
Just 10 days ago Cleveland’s season was on the line, now they are riding high into the conference finals. The dominance of LeBron has been unreal, and Love is hitting shots and finally looks comfortable with his role.
With the future of this team unknown beyond this year, it is important to just enjoy this ride the Cavaliers are on right now. We are watching the best player of all-time play the best basketball of his career when Cleveland needs it the most.
And LeBron isn’t about to let this journey end anytime soon.