LeBron James did it to the Raptors again, because this is what he does.
He came into Tuesday night’s game with an 8-2 record against them in the postseason, and improved upon it with a 113-112 comeback victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Cavaliers are fresh off of a grueling seven-game series against the Pacers that they very well could have lost. It took every ounce of the world’s best player to get the Cavaliers in the next round, and he somehow showed up ready to keep his dominance going.
The Raptors jumped out with a 33-19 lead in the first quarter, but that didn’t matter. It almost never does as long as No. 23 is on the floor. The Cavaliers got to the fourth quarter down 87-82, and that was close enough for The King.
James went 3-of-6 from the field in the final five minutes, getting seven of the Cavaliers’ last nine points.
This hustle effort by James in the final minute said everything. He wasn’t going to lose this one. Not for anything:
Final minute. Down 2.— ESPN (@espn) May 2, 2018
LeBron James is ALL HUSTLE. pic.twitter.com/6k8sDqdSZw
The Cavaliers outscored the Raptors, 23-18, in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get the win in regulation despite put-back after put-back effort in the final seconds. But James got them into overtime, which is all the Cavaliers needed.
James didn’t have any kind of stellar overtime, which is fine. He still got a rebound and two assists in the extra frame, though somebody might still find a reason to get on him for a lack of scoring. Whatever.
James’ overtime dish to J.R. Smith was a display of his greatness. Sure, maybe you’d rather James take the bulk of the shots in the final minutes. Asking the best player in the world to do such is entirely reasonable.
But he made the extra pass as opposed to trying Serge Ibaka in the paint, and it extended the Cavaliers’ lead to 111-107, one they wouldn’t have to look back from. That’s also part of what makes him as great as he is:
And we also got a prime example of what we’ve all been waiting for: James getting help when he’s not able to do it himself.
Tristian Thompson was in the right place at the right time to clean up after James, scoring what would be the game-winning basket for the Cavaliers with just over two minutes to go in overtime:
It’s not even a lot! James really needs just the slightest amount of help, even in close contests. There’s no questioning his greatness. He didn’t carry that dumpster of a Cavaliers’ team to the Finals in 2007 just by chance. The guy is the most special kind of talent.
His 26 rebounds, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists fresh off of a Game 7 help further cement the reasons why you should never, ever doubt him. But he might disagree:
LeBron James had 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in Game 1 against Toronto but shot 12-for-30 and called it “probably one of my worst games of the season.”— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 2, 2018
The Pacers threw everything they had at James last week, and it was an incredibly entertaining series because of that. And as much of a great story as the Pacers were, LeBron James was still LeBron James. There’s very few guarantees in life — but since 2010, James being in the Finals has been one of them.
The Eastern Conference is incredibly fun, young, and competitive so far this postseason. At times, it will make you forget about James, because he’s always been there. He could still run into the problems with the remaining teams, but the odds that those problems are going to be good enough to bring him down just probably won’t be enough.
James never wastes an opportunity to remind you he’s still around. He’s proving that once again this postseason, and we might just be getting started.
Not to mention, the idea of him going up against the rising talent in the Eastern Conference will be loads of fun.