CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, and the Toronto Raptors do not.
Distilled to its essence, that’s the difference in the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams.
No coach in the East knows that better than Toronto’s Dwane Casey, who lost to the Cavs in the 2016 conference finals, the 2017 conference semifinals, and is down 3-0 this time around after losing 105-103 on Saturday.
James hit a running floater off the glass as time expired to give the Cavs the victory. It was James’ second game-winning shot at the buzzer of these playoffs. His three-pointer against Indiana in Game 5 gave Cleveland a 3-2 series lead.
James had 38 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals, leading the Cavs to their ninth consecutive playoff victory over the Raptors.
“It reminds me of back in the days of having to get over the hurdle of (Michael) Jordan,” Casey said before Game 3. “At some point, you’ve got to get over that hurdle, you’ve got to knock it down, you’ve got to knock the wall down.
“It’s a similar situation we are with Cleveland. I always go back to how many years is this with LeBron going to the (NBA) Finals, eight? So, there’s lot of other teams that have gone through this gauntlet and we’ve got to go through it and that’s what we’re trying to do and going to do.”
Casey and his Raptors are on the verge of being swept after earning the top seed in the East with a franchise-record 59 victories. No team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
Reasons for the Cavs’ victory …
James’ continued excellence
In the series, James is averaging 35.7 points, 11.3 assists and 8.3 rebounds and shooting 53.6% from the field.
He has scored at least 30 points in 104 playoff games – just five behind Jordan. James also has led the Cavaliers in points and assists in 11 consecutive playoff games, passing Oscar Robertson for the longest streak in NBA playoff history.
Keep in mind: James is crushing the Raptors with his inside game and mid-range attack. He has taken just 15 three-pointers, making three.
Taking care of the ball
The Cavs had five turnovers in Game 1, three in Game 2 and 10 in Game 3.
When Cleveland isn’t turning the ball over, Coach Ty Lue said, “that’s usually a good sign for us. Either we’re going to make shots but also more importantly, we get a chance to get back and get our defense set. When we turn the basketball over, we can’t get back.”
James, who averaged 4.2 turnovers during the regular season, has just six turnovers in three games.
Meanwhile, the Raptors had 17 turnovers in Game 3.
Kevin Love’s resurgence
Love struggled in the seven-game series against Indiana and in the first game of this series against Toronto. But he followed his 31-point performance in Game 2 with 21 points and 16 rebounds in Game 3.
Love has balked at playing center, preferring time at power forward, his natural position. But with Love at the five, it helps create mismatches for the Cavs to exploit.
“I know that sometimes he doesn’t like playing the five, but he understands that’s what’s best for our team,” Lue said. “He understands that and he wants to win. Even if sometimes it’s tough, when we’re winning and (he’s) playing the way he’s capable of playing the five, he enjoys it. … He understands he has to sacrifice playing the five in this series and it’s big for us.”
Toronto’s lineup change
Searching for answers, Casey inserted Fred VanVleet into the starting lineup in place of Serge Ibaka, who was a tad better off the bench with 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
But VanVleet shot 2-for-9, and All-Star DeMar DeRozan made just three of his 12 shots and was a minus-23. He did not play in the fourth quarter as the Raptors made a late push.
Kyle Lowry had a team-high 27 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter in which Toronto outscored Cleveland 38-26 and tied the game at 103 with 8.8 seconds left.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt