By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) - Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James delivered a masterclass on Thursday that left the dispirited Toronto Raptors wondering if there was anything they could do to slow down the game's greatest player.
So dominant was the three-times NBA champion at times during a stellar second half performance in Game Two of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, it looked almost as if he was experimenting with difficult shots just for the fun of it.
"That drains you mentally and physically," Toronto coach Dwane Casey told reporters.
"He was having one of those nights but we have to keep the scoreboard moving as much as possible at the other end."
James scored a game-high 43 points to power the Cavaliers to a 128-110 victory over the Raptors and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which shifts to Cleveland for the next two games.
It was an all-too familiar script for a Toronto team that has been eliminated from the NBA playoffs the last two years at the hands of James and the Cavaliers, including a four-game sweep in last season's conference semi-finals.
This Toronto team had higher hopes of overcoming their previous playoff shortcomings, though, after changing their approach this season with a more balanced attack and an effective bench that helped them finish top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto now face a tall order in Cleveland, where they are 0-5 in postseason appearances and will be desperate for a win on Saturday as no NBA team has successfully recovered from being down 0-3 in a best-of-seven playoff series.
"We thrive off adversity, every single guy on this team," said Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, who had a team-high 24 points.
"We've been in tough situations before and, you know, sometimes when you're put in tough situations, that is what brings out the best in you and that's what point we are at now."
The Raptors got off to a decent start and led by as many as nine points at one point during the second quarter but they also struggled defensively and limped into the half leading by just two points over a Cavaliers team that were smelling blood.
From there, Cleveland opened the second half with an 18-5 run and never looked back as they stepped on the Raptors' collective throat to take total control of the series.
For his part, James said he and his team mate were not about to get complacent even though they are heading home with a comfortable series lead.
"We will not put our guard down, I won't, so that will trickle down to everybody else," said James, who also had 14 assists and eight rebounds.
"We're not satisfied. We came to play some good basketball up here and we look forward to more of a challenge."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Nick Mulvenney)