CLEVELAND — The same question has been asked repeatedly throughout the Cleveland Cavaliers’ postseason run: Does LeBron James have enough help?
Heck, “Saturday Night Live” even did a parody about it that was left on the cutting room floor but, of course, made its way to the internet.
Turns out, the Emmy Award-winning comedy show was a series too late.
After carrying a hefty offensive burden against the Indiana Pacers in Round One, James not only got plenty of help on Monday night, capping an impressive four-game sweep against the top-seeded Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he got that consistent lift throughout.
Kevin Love, freed from Thaddeus Young’s stranglehold, looked like a capable running mate.
Love scored 23 points on 8-of-13 from the field and 2-of-4 from 3-point range in 30 All-Star-caliber minutes during Monday night’s 128-93 win.
Once again, he took advantage of the Raptors’ switches, forcing his way into the post when guarded by smaller, helpless defenders. That inside-outside game caused Raptors head coach Dwane Casey headaches throughout the series, leading Casey to yank center Jonas Valanciunas out of the starting lineup for Game 4 after watching Love abuse the slow-footed big man in the previous two games.
“He’s a handful because he’s versatile,” Casey said of Love. “He goes inside, outside, can shoot the 3. He’s very clever, he does a great job of posting up and clamping once he does get you in the post and drawing fouls. He’s one of the more clever power forwards in our league right now, and versatile. So he’s really power forward playing the 5. But always doing different things. He’s efficient, whether screen and rolling with LeBron or screen and rolling with George Hill.
“Then he knows how to get you under control and get you into a switch where we’re trying to avoid it. As much as you try to, it happens. A handful for our bigs to chase around.”
Love averaged 20.5 points in the four-game sweep. Much better than the 11.4 points on 33.3 percent shooting in Round One.
“I didn’t forget how to play basketball. I was just ultra aggressive,” Love said. “I found myself in spots, I found myself just missing little chippies, missing shots that were uncharacteristic of me to miss. But I continued to be aggressive, continued to put in the work every single day. So for me it was just more than anything it was just me being myself.”
JR Smith, who was sick and marred in foul trouble during the Game 3 win, quickly bounced back. He scored 15 points in the first half, hitting all six of his shots, including a trio of 3-pointers.
For Smith, who also suffocated and frustrated Raptors leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, it was his most field goals made without a miss in a single half of his postseason career.
Smith averaged double figures for the series, one of six Cavaliers that reached that benchmark. So much for the narrative of not having enough help.
“I believe in my teammates so as everyone was burying my teammates alive throughout that first-round series, I just continued to tell them, ‘Listen, we can’t win without each and everyone doing their job’ and being as great as they can be,” James said. “I continued to preach that so it’s impossible for me to lose confidence in our ballclub no matter what the stakes are or where we’re down because if I do that then where are we going to go from a team aspect?”
Kyle Korver’s sweet shooting from the outside and non-stop movement away from the ball poked holes in a defense that ranked top 5 in efficiency during the regular season. With Korver’s 3-ball and floor spacing, the Cavaliers found their long-range identity after struggling against the Pacers’ forceful closeouts.
Korver tallied 16 points on 6-of-8 from the field and 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the clincher.
George Hill, looking recovered from an achy back that hobbled him earlier this postseason, attacked the Raptors from the opening tip. Dunks and layups that led to chuckles, Hill finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 from the field to go with five assists.
“He’s another added ball handler, another guy with a high basketball IQ that’s been in big games,” James said of Hill. “It helps to have that out on the floor, to be able to create, not only for himself as he did early on in the game, but just being able to create for others as well. It’s been great for us having him back after he had the injury.”
Even Jeff Green, who was a liability against Indiana, showed his value at both ends of the floor. Not only did he spell Smith for stretches against DeRozan, but Green showed off his scoring ability, averaging 12.2 points in the four games.
Don’t be mistaken, James had plenty of signature moments. He always does.
James flexed his muscles and stared down the Raptors at every turn, causing the Canadian city to be dubbed “LeBronto.”
It didn’t matter which defender the Raptors put in front of him either. James was too powerful for Pascal Siakam and CJ Miles, too skilled and smart for rookie OG Anunoby and too fast for Serge Ibaka, Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl.
James’ game-tying basket in Game 1 was worth more than just two points, casting doubt in the 59-win team that felt this postseason outcome would be different.
Then came James’ Game 3 buzzer-beater, which ripped Toronto’s heart out after a valiant late-game rally.
On Monday night, James scored 29 points to go with 11 assists and eight rebounds in 38 minutes. He buried the Raptors in the third quarter with a scoring outburst that finally forced Casey to raise the white flag.
Still, it wasn’t just James this time. Ending the Raptors season was a total team effort, the kind of effort that will be needed to get back to the NBA Finals.
With a boost from his much maligned teammates, James’ Cavaliers might’ve delivered the dagger that causes a massive shakeup in Toronto, reducing another Eastern Conference foe to rubble — just like the past Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.
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