Some of the details were different, the timestamps shifted and the statistics altered. For the most part, though, the story of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals was the same as the story of Game 1: the Cleveland Cavaliers mostly did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and the Toronto Raptors didn't have much to say about it.
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The Cavs crushed Toronto on Thursday, dominating the second half to roll to a 108-89 win that gives them a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series. The Cavaliers remain undefeated in the 2016 playoffs, a perfect 10-0 through 2 1/2 rounds of play, joining the 1989 and 2001 Los Angeles Lakers and the 2012 San Antonio Spurs as just the fourth team ever to win its first 10 postseason games. (Only the '01 Lakers won the NBA title, though, so maybe keep that stat under your hat if you come across any Ohioans this evening.)
LeBron James once again led the way, scoring 23 points on 7-for-13 shooting with 11 rebounds, 11 assists and three steals in 34 minutes of play. That's the 15th triple-double of his postseason career, second all-time only to Magic Johnson, and it seemed to come almost alarmingly easily.
Well, everywhere except the charity stripe. LeBron missed eight of the 17 free throws he earned by continuing his relentless assault on the rim, and is now 11-for-21 in the series, which caused him great consternation during his on-court interview with the great Doris Burke:
It was just about the only disturbance in his evening, as James breezily manipulated the Raptors defense to generate great looks for himself and his teammates.
After seeing their tactical choice to guard one-on-one with no help and run the Cavaliers' red-hot long-range shooters off the 3-point line in Game 1 result in a steady march to the rim, the Raptors took a different tack in Game 2. Coach Dwane Casey had them showing more aggressive help at the point of attack, especially when LeBron posted up DeMarre Carroll on the right block.
So instead of just repeatedly driving all the way to the rim, James opened the game by drawing out that help, getting center Bismack Biyombo antsy enough to slide over a beat too early or a step too far. That caused power forward Luis Scola — starting in place of Patrick Patterson, as Casey shuffled his deck in pursuit of better balance between his starters and reserves — or DeMar DeRozan, both of whom were stationed on the weak side, to sink down into the paint to help on Biyombo's man, Tristan Thompson. That led to LeBron rifling cross-court passes leading to wide-open 3s for Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, and to Love pass-faking Scola out of position on his closeout before driving all the way to the rim for a bunny.
Later, James beat Carroll off the bounce, forcing Biyombo to jump out on him and triggering those same help rotations on the back end. This time, LeBron toyed with DeRozan on the weak side; his glance over toward Smith in the far corner led DeRozan to sprint back out, lest he give up another 3, only for LeBron to drop a no-look dime to Thompson for a dunk. By the end of the first quarter, James had tallied six assists and accounted for 20 of the Cavaliers' 30 points.
And, as was the case in Game 1, James had plenty of help from Kyrie Irving, who poured in a game-high 26 points on 12-for-22 shooting with four rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes. Cleveland's leading postseason scorer once again had the ball on a string and the Raptors on their heels, bursting his way to the rim off the dribble, drilling jumpers in the faces of Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, and showcasing his nearly peerless creativity as an interior finisher.
Kevin Love made the most of his opportunities, scoring 19 points on just eight shots by cashing in at the foul line. Smith and Channing Frye each scored in double figures for the Cavs, who shot 50 percent from the floor as a team, outscored Toronto 50-28 in the paint, and led by as many as 22.
This marks the first time this postseason that the Raptors have lost consecutive games. And boy, have they lost consecutive games.
Toronto withstood an early Cavs flurry, taking a 23-22 lead on a Terrence Ross 3-pointer with 3:09 to go in the first. They matched the Cavs bucket for bucket for a while, with DeRozan and Ross carrying the load to have the score tied at 46 with four minutes remaining in the second quarter.
And then the Cavs hit the gas, bullying their way into the lane, getting to the line and clamping down on Toronto's shooters to rip off a 16-2 run that gave Cleveland a 62-48 halftime lead. The Raptors missed nine straight field-goal attempts in that stretch, and, well, that was the game. They'd never again get closer than 10, and never seem like they had anything left in the tank that could give them kind of boost they'd need to do so.
That was due in large part to the continued struggles of Lowry, the All-Star point guard who carried the Raptors offense so many times this season, but who has been soundly outplayed by Irving. Lowry shot 4-for-14 for the second straight game, scoring just 10 points and committing five turnovers against just three assists.
Lowry was so frustrated by his persistently poor play that he briefly left the Raptors bench and headed back to the locker room with the score tied at 46:
On leaving TOR with 4:00 left in half, Kyle Lowry tells The Vertical: "I needed to decompress, reconfigure myself. Get back to the grind."
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 20, 2016
Lowry did score eight points after that decompression, but needed nine shots to do it, and the Raptors still got outscored by 10 points in his 16 1/2 minutes of post-reconfiguration floor time. He made his first 3-pointer of the series with 8:31 left in the third quarter of Game 2 and his team down 17. The lead would hit 20 four minutes into the fourth quarter, long after the Raptors had given up the ghost and all that was left was waiting for the clock to hit triple-zero.
To some degree, that's what just about all of the first two games have felt like. Toronto, especially without injured center Jonas Valanciunas, just doesn't have enough talent to create problems that the Cavaliers can't solve, or to present sustainable solutions for the ones Cleveland's raising on every trip down the floor.
"They've got answers for everything we do," Luis Scola told me. "Everything is easy for them right now and for us, it's very hard."
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) May 20, 2016
It didn't seem easy for the Cavs against the Detroit Pistons, per se, but it still took them just four games to knock off Stan Van Gundy's club. It did seem easy for Cleveland to bombard the Atlanta Hawks. And yes, now, this just seems too easy for LeBron, Kyrie, Love and the rest of the Cavaliers, and with all due respect to the old axioms about playoff series not starting until someone loses on their home court, it looks like this one ended before either team even set sneaker on hardwood.
Whether this series winds up going four games or five — and it's really tough to envision it lasting longer than that — the Cavaliers are just in a different class than the Raptors, especially with Lowry flailing like this and with Valanciunas in a suit. Unless both those things change dramatically in time for Saturday's Game 3 at Air Canada Centre, the Cavs will not face real adversity, the kind presented by an opponent that can take your best shot and return one in kind, until they reach their second straight NBA Finals.
Until they get there, we won't know how good they really are. Until they get there, we're all just killing time.
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