LeBron James scored 23 points then sat the fourth quarter, Kevin Love scored 25, and Cleveland unleashed tenacious defense on Toronto to regain control of the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-78 rout of the Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
On their court in front of 20,000-plus screaming, towel-waving fans following two straight losses in Canada, the Cavaliers opened a 34-point lead in the first half, pushed it to 43 in the second and took a 3-2 series lead.
They can clinch their second straight conference title and trip to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 6 on Friday night in Toronto.
“We gotta come out from the beginning and that starts with the Big 3,” James said, referring to himself, Love and Kyrie Irving, who added 23 points. “We’ll be much better.”
It’s hard to imagine the Cavs being more in sync. They clicked at both ends in Game 5, handing the Raptors a beating that could linger into the offseason. After coming in with momentum and confidence, Toronto’s players left Quicken Loans Arena shaken and one loss from having their deepest playoff run stopped.
“They kicked our butts, bottom line,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s been all three ballgames.”
James had eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes before checking out late in the third quarter with the Cavs up 37. He spent the fourth quarter resting on the bench while Cleveland’s reserves finished the romp.
At halftime, James, Irving and Love had outscored the Raptors 43-34. Cleveland has won its three games in the series by a combined 88 points, and won its last four over Toronto at home by 110.
“They are a different team here,” Casey said. “We came in here with a chance to do something special and we didn’t get it done. They pushed us around and took what they wanted.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 14 and Kyle Lowry 13 for the Raptors, who were overwhelmed from the start. Bismack Biyombo had just four rebounds after getting 40 the past two games. The only positive for Toronto was center Jonas Valanciunas, who returned after missing eight straight games with a sprained right ankle. He scored nine points in 18 minutes.
Playing defense as if every possession was the game’s last, Cleveland held Toronto to 34 points in the opening half while building a 31-point halftime lead — the largest in conference finals history. Since their expansion arrival in 1993, the Raptors had never been down by 30 before in any game — regular or postseason — at halftime but they have rarely seen a defense like this either.
The Cavs were all over the court, swarming and stifling DeRozan and Lowry, who combined for 67 points in Game 4.
A courtside doctor might have stopped this one in the first half.
Love found his shooting touch after it went missing during the lost weekend in Toronto, where he went just 5 of 23 and was benched for the fourth quarter of Game 4. He finished 8 of 10 from the field, a confidence-boosting performance that should temporarily quiet his critics.
“Kevin Love being Kevin Love,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “He had two bad shooting games and we made a big deal out of it. Nothing he does amazes me. We gotta keep him aggressive all the time.”
The Cavs made a point of getting Love the ball right away and he responded by making all four field goal attempts, dropping a 3 late in the first quarter that pushed the Cavs to a 37-19 lead.
“It was a bounce-back game for him,” James said. “He’s a true professional.”
Cleveland’s onslaught continued in the second quarter, and when James got free for an easy two-handed dunk, Cavs fans could relax and begin making TV viewing plans for Friday.
These looked more like the Cavaliers who opened the postseason with 10 straight wins, obliterated the Raptors by a combined 50 points in Games 1 and 2 and given a chance to beat whomever survived in the West.
Cavaliers: Cleveland is 7-0 at home in these playoffs, winning by an average of 20.9 points. … Trumped their 31-point win in Game 1, which was the previous most lopsided playoff victory in team history. … James played in his 191st career postseason game, moving him ahead of Magic Johnson for 12th place on the all-time list.