LeBron James sent Toronto into summer vacation for the third straight season as the Cleveland Cavaliers completed a series sweep of the Raptors with a 128-93 win in Game 4 on Monday night to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
James finished with 29 points, 11 assists and spent some of the final 7:38 dancing near the bench during Cleveland’s 10th straight playoff win over Toronto, which changed its system, its roster and its approach but still can’t beat the game’s best player.
Kevin Love added 23 points and J.R. Smith 15 for the Cavs, who can now rest while waiting for the Boston-Philadelphia semifinal series to end.
Jonas Valanciunas scored 18 and Kyle Lowry had 10 assists to lead the exasperated Raptors. Toronto’s frustration hit its peak late in the third when All-Star DeMar DeRozan was ejected for a flagrant foul.
Cleveland will be appearing in its fourth straight conference final despite a turbulent regular season and a bumpy start to the playoffs. The Cavs needed seven games to get past Indiana before tormenting Toronto — again.
James arrived at Quicken Loans Arena three hours before tip-off wearing a baseball cap that said: “Don’t Trip.” If the message was directed at his teammates, they got it.
The Cavs didn’t stumble and had one of their best all-around games of these playoffs after so many tight ones. They won Games 1 and 3 over Toronto by a combined three points, needing a buzzer-beater to outlast the Raptors on Saturday night.
There was no need for such heroics and for a change, James, who came in averaging 41.7 minutes per game in the postseason, had plenty of help. All five Cleveland starters scored in double figures and Love continued his spring rebirth after struggling against the physical Pacers.
The contributions from Cleveland’s supporting cast came two days after “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at the team in a skit entitled “The Other Cavaliers,” which didn’t air but went viral on social media.
Cleveland took control with a 12-0 run over the final 2:12 of the first half. The Cavs didn’t let up, pushing their lead to 30 as their fans finally got a chance to relax and start making plans for the next round.
After James dropped a fadeaway baseline jumper to give Cleveland a 27-point lead, the 33-year-old stared at Toronto’s bench as he ran back on defense.
The Raptors must see him in their dreams.
It’s back to the drawing board for Toronto. The Raptors had the league’s second-best record, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, a deeper bench and in Lowry and DeRozan enough firepower to offset James.
But after blowing a big lead and giving away Game 1 on their home floor, the Raptors never recovered and now face an offseason full of questions and second-guessing.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey, looking for a spark to save the season — and maybe his Job — switched starting lineups for the second straight game. He gave C.J. Miles his first start and put Serge Ibaka back with the first five after using him in a reserve role in Game 3.
But Miles picked up two quick fouls and the Cavs’ offense was in gear from the start as Cleveland opened 12 of 15 from the floor while building a 26-17 lead.
Lue was shocked to learn of coach Stan Van Gundy’s firing in Detroit. Lue played for Van Gundy in Orlando and has always respected his basketball IQ.
“He’s emotional because he’s into the game,” said Lue, who added Van Gundy supported him during his health absence. “He loves the game that much. But as far as Xs and Os, understanding different teams, different schemes, his players, he’s one of the best as far as knowing the basketball game and what it takes.”
And as rumors swirl about Casey’s future, Lue said Toronto would be foolish to do anything rash.
“It would be absurd to make a move like that,” he said.
Raptors: DeRozan was tossed after hitting G Jordan Clarkson in the head on a layup. DeRozan finished with 13 points after sitting out the fourth quarter in Game 3. … Fell to 0-7 in playoff games in Cleveland. … Didn’t lose three straight during the regular season, then lost four in a row to the Cavs.
Cavaliers: Improved to 10-0 in Game 4 closeouts. … Won their 15th straight second-round game dating to the 2015 playoffs. … James entered Game 4 with 348 points in these playoffs, the most through 10 games by any player since Michael Jordan (354) in 1992. … Love became the fourth player in Cleveland history with 500 career playoff rebounds, joining James, Thompson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Cavaliers: Await Sixers-Celtics winner.