Maybe not the fadeaway jumpers James kept making, each seemingly with a higher degree of difficulty than the last, but he was sure there would be something.
"This morning you could just sense it," Love said. "He knew what was at stake, he knew us getting another win here was going to be huge for us. He came out and he played that way from the jump. You could just sense that he was going to have a special night."
James had 43 points and 14 assists, Love added 31 points and 11 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Toronto Raptors 128-110 on Thursday to take a 2-0 lead in their second-round playoff series.
James delivered the first 40-point, 14-assist game in NBA playoff history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
He added eight rebounds, narrowly missing his second straight triple-double, and connected on 19 of 28 attempts in a performance so dominant that the beleaguered Raptors' city was being called "LeBronto" by the time the night was over.
"He got it going and he was feeling it," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.
James, meanwhile, gave credit to Love, who shot 11 for 21 and missed matching his career playoff high by one point.
"It was great to see that performance out of him," James said. "He's our All-Star power forward. That's a huge game for him."
J.R. Smith scored 15 points, Jeff Green had 14 and George Hill 13 as the Cavaliers posted their eighth consecutive postseason victory over the Raptors and halted Toronto's four-game winning streak in Game 2s. The Raptors entered 6-1 all-time when playing Game 2 at home.
"Love got going on us and that was a difficult matchup for us," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "We have some matchup issues all over the court."
DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points and Kyle Lowry had 21 for the Raptors. Toronto won a team-record 59 games and finished as the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference this season, but was easily shoved one step closer to a third straight postseason exit at the hands of James and the Cavs.
Toronto matched Houston by going 34-7 at home in the regular season, and went 3-0 at home against Washington in round one. The Raptors had not lost consecutive home games since dropping Games 3 and 4 of the second round to Cleveland last May.
The series shifts to Ohio for Game 3 on Saturday night. Toronto has gone 0-5 at Cleveland over the past two postseasons, losing by an average margin of 24.2 points per game.
"Sometimes when you're put in tough situations, that's what brings the best out of you," DeRozan said. "That's what point we're at now."
Unfortunately for the Raptors, James insisted the Cavs aren't satisfied with their 2-0 lead.
"We will not let our guards down," James promised.
The Cavaliers, who tied a postseason low with three turnovers, are 21-3 at home against Eastern Conference opponents in the playoffs over the past four years.
The Raptors, who let a 10-point lead slip away in a 113-112 overtime loss in Game 1, were up 54-45 midway through the second quarter but saw their lead dwindle to 63-61 at halftime.
Cleveland took control as Smith scored six points in an 18-5 spurt to begin the third quarter. The Cavs outscored the Raptors 37-24 in the third to take an 11-point edge into the fourth, and Toronto didn't challenge again.
"That's kind of what won the game for us," Lue said of Cleveland's big third quarter.
James was on target in Cleveland's game-changing third quarter, connecting on seven of 10 attempts and scoring 15 points. Love added nine as the Cavs took a 98-87 lead to the fourth.
Cavaliers: The 24 combined points by James and Love in the third matched Toronto's total for the quarter. ... The Cavaliers are 18-1 in playoff series when they win Game 1.
Raptors: Lowry made his first six shot attempts. ... Toronto made 11 turnovers and has 25 in the series, compared to nine by the Cavs. ... Lowry led Toronto with eight assists.
Serge Ibaka shot 0 for 5 and scored just two points in 12 minutes, and did not return after making a turnover and missing a shot in the first two minutes of the third. Ibaka has nine total points in the series so far.
"Serge hasn't been himself," Casey acknowledged. "I don't know what it is."
After a pair of verbal confrontations with Cleveland's Kendrick Perkins in Game 1, rapper Drake stayed out of trouble in Game 2. Before the game, the NBA asked the Raptors to tell Drake to tone down his act. The three-time Grammy winner has been Toronto's global ambassador since 2013. Drake shook hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver when Silver passed by Drake's courtside seats to do a television interview in the second quarter.
Game 3 is Saturday night at 8:30 p.m.
More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
- Brian Forte
- Kane Fitzgerald
- Ken Mauer