The moment required brilliance. LeBron James delivered again.
James banked in a running one-hander at the buzzer, giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a 105-103 win over Toronto on Saturday night in Game 3 and shoving the Raptors to the edge of their most devastating playoff exit.
After the Raptors tied it on rookie OG Anunoby’s 3-pointer with eight seconds left, James took the inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the floor and rose off the floor on the left side of the basket just feet from Toronto’s bench.
Glass. Bucket. Bedlam.
“I live for those moments,” James said. “Be able to go out and come through for my team. My guys, they trust me. I was able to go out and do it.”
As the noise level in Quicken Loans Arena rose to jet-engine levels, the Cavs sprinted from the other end of the court and mobbed James. After some tight hugs, he was back atop the scorer’s table — just like he did after a last-second 3-pointer to win Game 5 against Indiana — and celebrated a win that was up for grabs.
“You just get the ball to Bron at the end of the game,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.
James finished with 38 points, Kevin Love added 21 and 16 rebounds and Kyle Korver scored 18 for the Cavs, who have won nine straight postseason games over the Raptors and may sweep them for the second straight year.
Kyle Lowry scored 27 for Toronto, which clawed back in the fourth quarter while All-Star DeMar DeRozan was on the bench.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey wanted to trap James on the final play, but he went by defenders at “100 miles per hour.”
“We wanted to make somebody else get the shot and we just didn’t get it done,” Casey said. “We are all hurt.”
After winning the series’ first two games in Canada, the Cavs came home and won a brawl with the Raptors, who just can’t beat James. He’s 11-2 against Toronto in the past three postseasons.
The three-time champion has ended the Raptors’ past two seasons, and despite playing with a different supporting cast, James is one win from a Toronto trifecta.
We The North? He The North.
Game 4 is Monday night, and the odds are stacked against the rattled Raptors. Of the 129 teams in NBA history to fall behind 3-0, none has come back to win.
“Fight,” Lowry said when asked what’s next. “Rumble. What else are you gonna do?”
This was supposed to be the Raptors’ season, the one that ended in triumph over James. Toronto had the East’s best record, the No. 1 seed, home-court advantage and a Cleveland team that appeared very beatable.
But the Cavs stole Game 1 by a point in overtime, and James scored 43 in a virtuoso Game 2 performance.
Then, as he has done so many times, he ripped out Toronto’s hearts with a probable series-and-season-ending dagger, a shot that belongs right at the top of so many in his remarkable career.
The first half ended in frustration for the Raptors with DeRozan, coach Dwane Casey and his assistants screaming at the officials following a sequence that went against them.
Serge Ibaka’s basket was originally counted and then waved off by the referees, and the reversal was doubly painful as Love buried a 3-pointer to put the Cavs ahead by 13. Jeff Green’s layup just before the horn made it 55-40 and an incensed Casey, his suit coat flying open and his tie jumping off his chest, stormed off the floor.
Desperate to find something, anything, to slow down the Cavs, Casey changed his starting lineup for Game 3. He inserted 6-foot guard Fred VanVleet and benched forward Serge Ibaka, going with a smaller lineup to push the pace.
However, Toronto started 2 of 11 from the field and the Raptors were quickly down 12 and seemingly in big trouble when DeRozan picked up his second foul and went to the bench.
Raptors: Casey has been criticized for some moves — and ones he hasn’t made — in the series. He’s also aware of the narrative that his team has been mentally defeated by James. “It’s not in my head,” he said. “It’s disappointing. It reminds me of back in the days of having to get over the hurdle of (Michael) Jordan. At some point you’ve got to get over that hurdle, you’ve got to knock it down, you’ve got to knock the wall down.” … Toronto fell to 0-6 in playoff games in Cleveland, tying Atlanta for the worst postseason record by an opponent.
Cavaliers: Several Cleveland players watched the dramatic finish of the 76ers-Celtics game from their locker-room chairs before tip-off. … James moved past Tony Parker (226) for the fifth-most games in postseason history. Derek Fisher (259) is the all-time leader, followed by Tim Duncan (251), Robert Horry (244) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (237).
Game 4 is Monday night.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball