Cavs eliminate Raptors, sweep second straight opponent of 2017 postseason

TORONTO -- LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers like the taste of blood.

The Cavs won their 12th consecutive closeout game, beating the Toronto Raptors on Sunday 109-102 and tying an NBA record for series-clinching victories, which they share with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-04). The Cavs also have six sweeps in the past three postseasons. No team had done that since the league went to seven-game series in all rounds in 2003.

It’s just crushing elimination efficiency, and the reason is James, who dropped the coup de grace by playing the entire second half to assure a week off before the Eastern Conference finals with 35 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.

James finished off one of the finest statistical series of his career, averaging 36 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists over the four games. Those are whoppers, but then you take a look at his percentages and realize he shot 57 percent overall, 48 percent from 3-point range, and over the two games in Toronto made 23-of-25 from the foul line.

“When LeBron is shooting the 3-ball [like] he is, at the rate he’s shooting it, at the average he’s shooting it, they’re difficult,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They present so many problems offensively.”

While James dominated overall, the Cavs rode with Kyrie Irving down the stretch, putting him in his sweet spot on the right wing, where he ended last year's NBA Finals with a long 3. He nailed another one with this game tight in the fourth quarter and then kept working over the Raptors with his wicked crossovers and speed changes. He scored nine vital points that helped the Cavs get late separation after the Raptors clawed back from 16 points down earlier in the half.

“Winning time. Just understanding the magnitude of the game, what was at stake,” Irving said. “We needed that. We needed to be tested throughout 48-minute games. One of the hardest things to do is sweep teams.”

Irving finished with 27 points and nine assists against just one turnover. While James dominated in the past week, Irving quietly was a devastating distributor, averaging 8.5 assists, the most in a series in his career.

That 1-2 punch was merciless on the Raptors, who fought until the end despite Kyle Lowry wearing a suit coat for the second straight game because of a sprained ankle that felled him at the worst possible time. They just couldn’t handle Irving with the Cavs’ 3-point shooters spacing the floor and opening lanes.

“The habits that he’s built over the last three years have put him in a position where you can always rely on him, no matter what’s going on,” James said. “So, it’s definitely great to have him.”

Over the past three years, the Raptors have signed Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll; re-signed Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas; and traded for P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka. Those moves, in one way or another, were with an eye toward beating James and the Cavs in a playoff series.

But they came up short two years in a row, this season being farther away than last year, when they lost to the Cavs in six games in the Eastern Conference finals. It was demoralizing.

The Cavs ended up making 34 more 3-pointers in the series than the Raptors did, Kyle Korver dropping four of them coming off the bench Sunday.

Three Raptors starters had 20 points as DeRozan (22), Joseph (20) and Ibaka (23) tried to stave off the reaper. But James and the Cavs were too strong.

“They’re a well-oiled machine, playing on all cylinders right now,” Casey said. “Any time you have No. 23 you can flip every switch you want to. ... He is the difference. They did flip a switch. They are a totally different team defensively and definitely offensively.”