Every year, the Eastern Conference is full of surprises, but they happen before May. In May, LeBron James' team advances to the NBA Finals, and there's nothing anyone else can do about that. On Friday, with a 113-87 win over the Toronto Raptors in Game 6, LeBron advanced to his sixth straight Finals, bringing the Cavaliers with him for their second appearance in a row.
Cleveland unexpectedly lost Games 3 and 4 in Toronto, but they made it clear early on that they wouldn't be letting up on the road this time around. The Cavaliers led 17-8 early and ended the first quarter up 31-25, a lead that they didn't surrender the rest of the game.
James dominated, scoring 21 points in the first half with shots hit from all over the floor, including three triples. He's the one headed to his sixth straight Finals appearance, after all. The Cavaliers reverted back into the unstoppable three-point shooting team that torched Atlanta in the semifinals, nailing 17 of their 31 three-point attempts in full flamethrowing fashion.
Kyle Lowry did his best to keep Toronto's season from ending, scoring 15 points in less than three minutes to end the third quarter after Cleveland took a 20-point lead. It looked like the Cavaliers would run away with the game from there, but the Raptors surged back, hanging around through the fourth quarter, just surviving, just like they have all year -- a fitting tribute to their season.
But there's a time for everything, and it was the Raptors' time to expire. James advanced to the Finals, as he does, representing the Eastern Conference yet again. Now, they wait on the winner of the Thunder and the Warriors, possibly coming on Saturday in their own Game 6.
1. This series was more fun than we thought it would be
The first two games were not fun, leading to reasonable expectations that the series would end in five games or even a sweep. Instead, Toronto came back, won both games at home and terrified Cavaliers fans who still didn't quite trust their team after years of ineptitude. Drake and LeBron had a television moment. There was some trash talk. Cleveland took care of business after the Toronto detour, but we enjoyed ourselves.
2. The Raptors have a future
Toronto's first-round struggles were sad and it looked for a minute like they'd lose the second round, too. Yet here they stand, deeper in the playoffs than they've ever been as a franchise, even subverting expectations outlined above about a quick four-game sweep. Kyle Lowry broke out of his early playoffs slump to keep Toronto alive at all costs like he had throughout the year. DeMar DeRozan had moments during Games 3 and 4, too. The Raptors are a younger team, and while they do have free agency questions (namely Bismack Biyombo), this is a great start. Vanquishing their first-round demons had to be done. The Raptors should be a force in the East for a while, and this is just the beginning.
3. Seriously, though: LeBron's incredible
This many playoff games is a beating. It's an absolute grind. James is the greatest player of our generation, so great that it's entirely too easy to look past how absurd six straight Finals appearances is.
After this season LeBron will minimally have played 125 playoff games in six straight Finals trips. More than 7.5 seasons packed into 6.— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) May 28, 2016
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