Cleveland Cavaliers flip playoff switch
By Terry Pluto, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- One game at home.
That's all the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs since LeBron James returned three seasons ago.
The Cavs wiped out the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, 125-103, meaning they are now 17-1 vs. the East in Quicken Loans Arena since 2015.
Many of the games have been like this one, where the Cavs seemed be like a stacked summer league team running, dunking, laughing, dancing and embarrassing the opposition.
In their five playoff games in the last two seasons, Toronto has lost to the Cavs by an average of 23 points in Cleveland.
"We play well in this building," said Lue. "We get one steal, one dunk ... it gets the fans right back on our side. This is a very tough place to pay."
At the end of the first quarter, the Cavs had a 13-2 margin on the boards. That's right, two total rebounds for Toronto.
The crowd was waving towels, stomping it's feet and screaming "LET'S GO CAVS ... LET'S GO CAVS!"
It was more like a party than the playoffs.
James was the Master of Ceremonies, scoring a shockingly-efficient 39 points. He was only 10-of-14 from the field. Toronto tried fouling him, but he was a respectable 15-of-21 at the foul line.
Defensively, the Cavs were magnificent. They were determined to frustrate DeMar DeRozan, Toronto's star who was averaging 23 points a game in the playoffs.
"Our strategy has been to take away what a team does best," said Lue, adding DeRozan "is a great player.'
In the first half, he had one point. He didn't make a field goal until the fourth period. The star guard finished with five ugly points on 2-of-11 shooting.
J.R. Smith was the first line of defense, but the Cavs quickly sent help. When Smith was out, Iman Shumpert was the primary defender.
But others helped.
Sometimes, it was James. Sometimes, it was Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson. Sometimes, it was three guys -- proving three is indeed a crowd when trying to get off an open shot.
The Cavs have been making shots from all over in many of their six playoff games (all victories) this season. But the impressive part is how the defense has become a priority, starting in the second half of Game 3 of the Indiana series.
Before the game, Toronto coach Dwane Casey knew his team was facing an enormous challenge.
"You have to out-work them, out-scrap them," he said "You have to play hard and play desperate. You have to respect them but not fear them."
Wonder what Toronto is feeling right now. DeRozan is in a horrible shooting slump. All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry left the game in the second half with a sore ankle.
And the Cavs are moving the ball on offense, attacking the rim and paying attention to defense and details.
Consider that Kyrie Irving has 21 assists and only five turnovers in the first two games. Or that Iman Shumpert has scored 19 points in the first two games, the same Shumpert who struggles to put the ball in the basket.
The Cavs are up 2-0 in this best-of-seven series. Teams with James are 18-0 in series where they take a 2-0 lead.
As the playoffs loomed, James talked about the Cavs "flipping the switch" from a sometimes snoozer of a regular season.
Well, it's been more like a basketball storm, complete with thunder, lightning and a championship team remembering what it took to win a title a year ago.