By Sarah Berkowitz
In case you’re wondering why the Cleveland Cavaliers won last night’s game 6 of the Eastern finals against the Toronto Raptors on their way to the NBA finals against either the Warriors or Thunder:
LeBron James scored 33 points, including 21 in the first half, as the Cavaliers defeated the Raptors 113-87, securing a spot in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season.
“Whoever has them next has their hands full,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
James, who also had 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots, will play in the Finals for the sixth straight season, joining a handful of Celtics greats, including Bill Russell, as the only players to do that.
James was emotional in his postgame interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke and with reporters in the news conference.
“The man above has given me an unbelievable ability, and I just try to take full advantage of it,” James said. “I get to do what I love to do every single night, and that’s to play the game of basketball. That’s my life. It’s everything, and I give everything to the game.
“So a lot of emotions were just going through my head at the point in time, talking to Doris, and just appreciating what I’ve personally been able to do throughout my career so far. It means a lot. The game of basketball has given me everything, and I would never cheat the game, no matter how many games I win, no matter how many games I lose. That really doesn’t matter to me because I really just give it all. That’s why I can sleep well at night.”
James was on from the start, and it was a takedown filled with precision, speed, power and brilliant playmaking. He made his first four shots, including two three-pointers, and played all but 37 seconds in the first half in which Cleveland built a 55-41 lead.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the gameplan called for James to attack early.
“Toronto has been playing great at home. They were comfortable here. They have a great fan base. It’s a loud environment,” Lue explained. “And Game 6 on the road, LeBron has been in these positions before, and I just needed him to take charge and take the lead and just come out early in that first quarter and really set the tone of playing hard, of scoring the basketball, attacking and moving the basketball. He really did that for us tonight.”
The Cavs increased the lead to 21 points in the third quarter, held off a scoring outburst from Kyle Lowry who had 18 points in the third, including Toronto’s final 15 of the quarter. Lowry finished with 35.
The Raptors trimmed the deficit to 86-76 early in the fourth, but Cleveland had too much talent with James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the floor. Irving had 30 points and nine assists, and Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds.
It was the second consecutive game Cleveland’s Big 3 all scored at least 20 points, and the Cavs also were once again devastating on three-pointers, making 17-of-31.
With a playoff opponent one loss from elimination, James grasps the importance of ending the series. Starting with 2011 playoffs, James is 20-4 in closeout games and averaging 26.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists in those games.
“There’s only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Casey said.
James’ focus was tough to match in this series. In the six games, James averaged 26 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.7 assists and shot 62.2% from the field. James scored 30 or points in a playoff game for the 81st time, but it was his first 30-point game of the 2016 playoffs.
After Cleveland’s Game 5 victory, James was asked why he didn’t feel compelled to take over the game.
“My presence on the floor is much bigger than what numbers talk about,” James said. “When you have a young superstar like this guy (Kyrie Irving), you have Kevin (Love), who’s a superstar as well, and they’ve helped us get to this point. So you don’t just throw in the kitchen sink because we lose two games or we didn’t play as well as we could.
“There may be a time when I may have to have one of those big games, but until then, just relax.”
That game was Friday, and for the 25th consecutive playoff series, James won at least one game on the road.
“We’re not great yet. We’ve got one more round to become great,” James said. “So we look forward to it.”