(Toronto, On) It seemed like Game 1 all over again, except the teams were switched around. This time, it was the Cleveland Cavaliers who held the lead throughout regulation during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals but a desperate Toronto Raptors team, down two games to none, chipped away until a three pointer from OG Anunoby tied the game at 103 with eight seconds left.
Unlike Game 1, however, last night’s game never went to overtime. And Cleveland can thank LeBron James for that.
James led all scorers with 38 points, including a difficult running fadeaway floater off the glass at the buzzer, as the fourth seeded Cavaliers survived a comeback attempt from the top seeded Raptors, winning 105-103.
Cleveland now pushes Toronto to the brink with a 3-0 series lead as they look to complete the sweep of the Raptors for the second straight year on Monday night at 8:30pm on TSN (Canada) and TNT (United States). No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit.
Kevin Love had his second straight strong outing, with 21 points and 16 rebounds. Kyle Korver hit four triples and scored 18 points while George Hill had 12 and Jeff Green scored 11 off of the bench.
Kyle Lowry led Toronto with 27 points, 15 of them coming in the final quarter as the Raptors overcame a 17 point second half deficit. However, DeMar DeRozan struggled mightily in Game 3, scoring just eight points on 3-12 shooting as he was benched in the fourth quarter.
Anunoby continues his remarkable rookie season with a playoff career high 18 points on four made triples, while shouldering the load of guarding James. CJ Miles had 13 points on three triples made while Jonas Valanciunas had another double-double, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Serge Ibaka, who has struggled this series, was benched in favour of Fred VanVleet in an effort to instill some energy on both ends on the floor. Ibaka had a bounce back performance, with 11 points and a game high four blocks, while VanVleet was a team high +14 on the floor.
Toronto’s bench doubled Cleveland’s output (32-16) while beating the Cavaliers in second chance points (19-9), blocks (11-4), rebounding (47-44), and three point shooting (13-9) despite the home team winning the battle in the paint (48-42) and in assists (18-14).
The Raptors once again shot themselves in the foot in terms of taking care of the ball, committing 17 turnovers leading to 18 Cavaliers points.
Toronto couldn’t buy a bucket in the early stages of the game as Cleveland jumped out to a 16-4 lead. Despite the Raptors shooting 30 per cent, however, the visitors cut the lead to 24-19 after the end of one quarter.
The Raptors continued to nip away at the Cavs’ heels throughout much of the second quarter as a driving layup from Anunoby cut the lead to one (39-38). But Cleveland closed out the half on a 16-2 run as a controversial play came when a potential three point play from Ibaka that would’ve cut the lead to seven was called off as the Raptors were down 55-40 at the half.
Toronto came out of intermission on a mission as they opened the second half on a 12-2 run, capped off by three free throws from VanVleet. But just like how the first half ended, Cleveland extended its lead back up to double digits, led by Love’s nine third quarter points, as the home team took a 79-65 lead heading into the final frame.
Toronto then went with Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Miles, and Ibaka to open the fourth quarter to try to get back into the game. It was then that their offensive execution finally showed up as the Raptors scored 38 in the fourth quarter. Along with Lowry’s scoring exploits, Anunoby had 11 in the quarter.
But LeBron kept them at bay for almost the entirety of the quarter, scoring 16 points in the fourth. With 30 seconds to go and up three, James went to the rim and missed on what looked to be a straight contest from Ibaka but, to the fury of the Raptors, ended up being called a foul.
James then split a pair at the line and Lowry responded with a driving layup to trim the deficit to two (102-100). Green was then fouled but he split a pair as well as Miles grabbed the rebound and dribbled it down the court, with no timeouts left for Toronto.
Miles then spotted a streaking Anunoby in transition on the wing, who then pump faked as Green flew by him. The rookie then took a sidestep and calmly drilled the three for the game’s only tie, to the stunned silence from the Quicken Loans Arena fans.
Cleveland then had a chance to win, as they inbounded from the backcourt. James received the ball as he went away from the potential double team and had a running start. With time running out, he faded back with the floater that banked off the glass as time expired, sending the Cleveland crowd into a frenzy and leaving the Raptors team stunned.
Game 4: Monday May 7th at 8:30pm
Written by Kajan Thiruthanikasalam