Los Angeles (AFP) – LeBron James scored 43 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers powered to a 128-110 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their NBA second-round playoff series.
The Cavs, who broke Raptors hearts with a 113-112 overtime triumph on Tuesday, may well have broken their spirit as they won a second straight game at Air Canada Centre, putting themselves in position to sweep Toronto for a second straight year when the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series shifts to Cleveland on Saturday.
In Boston, the Celtics seized a 2-0 lead in their series against Philadelphia, roaring back from a 22-point second-quarter deficit to triumph 108-103.
Jayson Tatum scored 21 points to lead six Boston players in double figures as the Celtics remained unbeaten on their home floor in these playoffs.
The 76ers will try to right the ship as the series shifts to Philadelphia for games three and four, but the Celtics have never lost a best-of-seven series in which the led 2-0.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, head home with a chance to sweep the Raptors for a second straight year.
“We’ve got to continue to keep our guards up and continue to push,” cautioned James, whose 14 assists matched his career playoff high.
He notched his 23rd playoff game with at least 40 points and his fourth so far this post-season.
Kevin Love, averaging less than 11 points per game this post-season, emerged from his offensive slump to added 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavs.
JR Smith scored 15, George Hill chipped in 13 and Jeff Green came off the bench to contribute 14 as the Cavs extended their post-season dominance of the Raptors.
“This was a complete team effort,” James said. “It’s a big win for us.”
But even as Love impressed, James dazzled, confounding Toronto with an array of turnaround jump shots.
“This’ll be my fourth year here, I don’t know if I’d seen that out of him,” Love said.
The Raptors, who earned the top seed in the East for the first time in franchise history as Cleveland struggled to find consistency throughout the regular season, insisted they can still make it a series.
“We thrive on adversity,” said DeMar DeRozan. “We’ve been in tough situations before and sometimes when you’re put in tough situations that’s what brings the best out of you.
“We understand where we’re at,” he added. “We’re going to fight.”
The Cavs, trailing by two at halftime, eviscerated the Raptors in the third quarter, opening the second half on an 8-0 scoring run to seize a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
James and Love combined for 24 of Cleveland’s 37 points in the period — matching Toronto’s third quarter total.
DeRozan paced the Raptors with 24 points and Kyle Lowry added 21. But the Raptors had no answer for Cleveland in the second half.
“We need more effort, way more effort,” Lowry said. “We’ve got to play harder.”
– ‘Never say die’ –
The 76ers, coming off a lacklustre game one loss in Boston, got off to a fast start against the Celtics, but as so often in the regular season they couldn’t hold onto their lead.
JJ Redick led Philadelphia with 23 points. Robert Covington added 22 points and nine rebounds. Joel Embiid finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds but star rookie Ben Simmons missed all four shots he took as he scored just one point in 31 minutes.
Simmons coughed up two turnovers as Boston engineered a 20-5 scoring run to close the first half. Over a 16-minute stretch spanning the second and third quarters Boston out-scored Philadelphia 50-20 to seize the lead.
Philadelphia edged back into the lead in the fourth quarter, but Boston responded with an 11-5 scoring run and held on for the win.
“That’s the story of our season,” Tatum said. “But we have a never say die mentality.”