​Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead over Raptors, with 105-103 win on LeBron James buzzer beater 
​ BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
Roughly 90 minutes prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was asked if he was going to make any changes to his starting lineup for the franchise’s biggest game in its history. Considering the Cavs had taken the first two games of the series north of the border and were returning home with an opportunity to close out the series, the question was legitimate.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Casey succinctly answered as the all-important Game 3 neared.

It would be a bad sign if Casey truly hadn’t come up with a starting lineup roughly an hour before tipoff, but he may have simply refused to divulge what changes he came up with. Either way, the Raptors and their head coach understood what they were facing the rest of the series.

“Anytime you’re down 0-2, there’s sense of urgency and desperation,” Casey said. “They’re not down and out. They understand we’re in a tough situation, but we know we’re the only ones that can bail ourselves out.”

Unfortunately for the Raptors, it was once again LeBron James who did the bailing out Saturday evening. Already with a buzzer-beater under his belt from the opening round series against the Indiana Pacers, James racked up his second game-winner of the postseason with a one-legged runner off glass to sink Toronto 105-103 in Quicken Loans Arena.

“I practice pretty much every shot I take in a game,” James said after dropping 38 points, six rebounds and seven assists in Game 3. “No matter if it’s the first quarter or a game-winner, I feel pretty comfortable.”

After his final shot fell through the net, James celebrated with his teammates and then shared his joy with the fans by jumping on the scorer’s table with his arms outstretched to The Q crowd. The referees gathered to review the play on a monitor, but the Raptors already knew what the outcome would be and had already begun heading for the locker room.

“Our goal in the timeout was to trap him, make someone else beat us,” Casey said. “He split the trap and went 100 miles an hour down the floor and lost our guy. We just didn’t execute.”

Cavs power forward Kevin Love executed his way to 21 points and 16 rebounds, while Kyle Korver chipped-in four threes and 18 points. Five Cavaliers reached double-figures in scoring, helping a Cavs team that has never lost a series when leading 2-0 take an even more commanding lead.

“You know he’s going left,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said. “He made a tough shot.”

Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue didn’t dare put the ball in anyone else’s hands for the final play.

“You just get the ball to ‘Bron at the end of the game,” Lue said. “He’s been producing for us all season, his whole career. If the game is tied or the game’s on the line, we got a great person to go to down the stretch.”

On the other side of the coaching isle, the only lineup change Casey made was switching out Serge Ibaka for Fred VanVleet, who scored eight points on 2-for-9 shooting. Ibaka had a productive game off the bench with 11 points and eight rebounds, but a few moves Casey made in the fourth quarter will be the most debated following Toronto’s third loss in a row, something the team did not experience all season.

Casey benched Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan, who had totaled eight points through three quarters, for the entire fourth quarter of Game 3. Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas also sat out the majority of the fourth quarter and only entered the game after baka fouled out with 15 seconds to play.

To Casey’s credit, the Raptors looked as competitive as they did in Game 1, a game they easily could have won, after getting blown out by the Cavs in Game 2. Lowry scored 27 points and was the catalyst for the Raptors in the fourth quarter with the team’s other star on the bench. Nevertheless, the Cavs have now defeated the Raptors in six straight playoff games at The Q and eight straight playoff games overall.

After dropping the first two games in Toronto, the Raptors had already been subjected to Twitter slander, questions regarding their toughness and accusations that the Cavs and James were in their heads.

“It’s not in my head,” Casey said after his team clawed back from a 14-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to tie game at 103 with eight seconds to play. “It’s disappointing and you hear that, you read it, you guys talk about it. It reminds me of back in the days of having to get over the hurdle of Jordan, and at some point you’ve got to get over that hurdle.

“You got to knock it down, you got to knock the wall down and it’s a similar situation we are in with Cleveland. I always go back to, how many years is this of LeBron going to the Finals? Eight? So there’s a lot of other teams that have gone through this gauntlet, and we’ve got to go through it.”

The gauntlet could end on Monday as the Cavs will attempt to close out the series. 
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​POSTED 05/06/2018 00:45
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