TORONTO -- When the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing in the East playoffs, they go for sweeps.
This mindset took Kyle Korver off guard when he heard it from teammates at the start of the playoffs. To Korver, who joined the Cavaliers via a January trade, the concept seemed to be a mix of arrogance and insanity. But the Cavs, it appears, know what they’re doing, and they like to be able to rest during the playoffs.
Taking advantage of Kyle Lowry's injury absence and overcoming the best-scoring playoff game of DeMar DeRozan's career, the Cavs moved to the verge of their sixth sweep of an East team over the past three years with a 115-94 Game 3 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday.
LeBron James, who extended his personal NBA record of winning a road game to 28 consecutive series, again was a force of nature for Cleveland. He scored 35 points, 13 in a powerful stretch to open the deciding fourth quarter, to go with eight rebounds and seven assists. Perhaps most impressive, James was a relentless 15-of-16 at the foul line, the only recent hole in his game.
DeRozan was coming off a five-point performance in Game 2, the worst playoff output in his career, but he scored 37 to attempt to carry his team. But it was not enough, and it didn’t help that he scored one point in the fourth quarter.
Lowry warmed up before the game but his left ankle didn’t have enough mobility; he rolled the ankle inward for an awkward sprain in Game 2. He dressed but did not play, an indication of how badly it was hurting considering the stakes of the game.
The Cavs continued to double-team DeRozan, just as they did in the first two games. The Raptors tried to counterbalance by not sending screens for DeRozan because that would give the Cavs better opportunities to trap him. The Cavs sent the double-teams anyway, trying to attack Toronto's only dangerous offensive option given Lowry's absence.
DeRozan attacking the defensive strategy by splitting the double-teams or moving before the trap arrived. Suddenly, he was back to himself, drawing fouls and getting to his comfortable midrange spots. Cavs guard J.R. Smith had five fouls midway through the third quarter, repeatedly swiping at DeRozan as he wiggled past.
If DeRozan had gotten any significant help, the Raptors probably would’ve built a decent lead by the end of the third quarter, and perhaps they would’ve won it with the support of their home crowd down the stretch. But time and time again, DeRozan or Lowry sub Cory Joseph (4 points, 2-of-12 field goals) would find open shooters only to see them misfire.
The Raptors missed their first 12 3-point shots, and in the process missed a chance to take advantage of the Cavs going through a bit of an offensive malaise in the middle of the game. Instead, DeRozan had 36 points through three quarters, and the Cavs were ahead by two going to the fourth.
That was not good for Toronto. The Cavs lowered the boom in the fourth quarter as Korver nailed three straight 3-pointers and James lowered his head and started attacking. Suddenly, the Cavs were up 19 with James, Tristan Thompson, Deron Williams and Iman Shumpert assembling tight defense. The Raptors went through a 1-for-13 shooting slump and scored only three points in a six-minute stretch.
James and those bench players (though in this case, Thompson playing instead of Channing Frye) were highly effective in the last series against the Indiana Pacers. That group, which included Korver, went on a 26-7 run versus the Raptors from the start of the fourth quarter until James subbed out with 3:27 to play.
The Cavs can complete the sweep of the Raptors on Sunday afternoon at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.