INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — As the score became more and more lopsided in Toronto, LeBron James started to change.
And as the final seconds ticked toward all zeroes on the clock, James took one last look at the scoreboard at the bottom of the TV screen and decided it was time to get serious again.
“Uh, 114-86,” James said, relaying the Raptors’ huge lead over the Miami Heat in the waning moments of their Game 7. “That’s when I flipped the switch.”
James and the Cavaliers are back in playoff mode. Bring on Toronto.
After a week of waiting for an opponent, the Cavs finally learned they’ll face the Raptors, who clobbered Miami 116-89 on Sunday to earn their first trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Toronto’s delirious fans chanted “We want Cleve-land!” down the stretch and they’ll get what they wanted: a well-rested Cavaliers squad in Game 1 on Tuesday night.
James met with media members shortly after the Toronto-Cleveland series became official. The four-time MVP wasn’t as talkative as earlier in the work and chose his words carefully as he discussed the Raptors, who won two of three against the Cavs during the regular season.
“We’re a totally different team than the regular season,” James warned.
The Cavs haven’t played since wrapping up a four-game sweep – their second of the postseason – over Atlanta on May 8. When they take the floor Tuesday, it will have been nine days between games – a break Cleveland used for rest and recovery. James said the time off was huge for him and his teammates.
“I’ve always said anytime you get an opportunity to get some rest throughout the course of our season, it’s always beneficial for anybody,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if you’re a 31-year-old guy who’s played a lot of basketball or you’re a 19-year-old kid who just came into the league. It doesn’t matter – you get a couple days in the postseason, there’s a benefit.”
Before practice, the Cavs broke down some game tape of the Raptors, who are enjoying the greatest season in their franchise’s history and don’t want it to end anytime soon.
Toronto has been nipping at Cleveland’s heels all season and the East finals will match up the conference’s top two teams.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the clubs have been on a collision course.
“They played at a high level all season, winning 56 games this year and they’re a confident group,” he said. “They feel great, getting out of the first round this year, getting the monkey off their back so they’re up for the challenge – and so are we.”
The Cavs will focus on slowing down the Raptors’ two-headed guard tandem. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 63 points in the series-clinching win over the Heat and present a matchup problem for any team because they can drive to the basket or pull up and knock down jumpers. Lowry burned Cleveland by scoring a career-high 43 points in a win on Feb. 26.
“They’re two All-Stars for a reason,” James said about Lowry and DeRozan. “And that’s the reason that they’re in the Eastern Conference finals because they’re two All-Stars. They wouldn’t be in this position without them.”
Toronto’s win denied James a chance to go against the Heat, his former team, and good friend Dwyane Wade. James recently said he had entertained the possibility of a Cavs-Heat matchup, which would have provided a sexier national story line and tested his mental toughness like no other series.
“I didn’t really indulge into it too much,” James said of a possible meeting with Wade and a team he led to four straight Finals. “I was just waiting around, just like the rest of the guys, getting my work in, and whoever advanced we’d be ready to play against.”
For the Cavs, who are a perfect 8 for 8 so far in the playoffs, the anticipation is over.
It’s game time again.
“We know who we’re playing,” James said. “We’re going to start diving in on their personnel, diving in on what they do best. They was chasing us all year for the No. 1 seed. We look forward to the matchup, just as well as we looked forward to Detroit and also Atlanta.”