The Toronto Raptors may not have made the one big trade that could have pushed them past Cleveland as the favorites in the east, but they still appear to be LeBron James’ biggest threat at making it to his sixth consecutive NBA finals.
The Raptors started journeyman James Johnson and Luis Scola and got only six points out of DeMar DeRozan but they still managed to knock off the Cavaliers 99-97 on Friday night in the Air Canada Centre after Kyle Lowry hit this shot to put Toronto ahead with just three seconds remaining.
LeBron still had an opportunity to tie or win the game for Cleveland in the final seconds, but his jumper over Cory Joseph hit nothing but air.
While LeBron is still undoubtedly one of the best players in the world, his performance in the clutch has been lacking, as he has failed to hit game-tying or go-ahead shots in the games’ final seconds in five out of his six attempts this season.
But LeBron’s miss isn’t the reason Cleveland lost the game. The Cavs had a double-digit second half lead but made several mistakes down the stretch that allowed Toronto to stay in the game and eventually take the lead. After the game, James had some tough words for his team as he called out Cleveland’s mental errors, via Cleveland.com.
“When you lose the way we lost, mental mistake after mental mistake, those hurt more than anything when you can play better mentally,” he said. “People get so caught up on the physical side of the game. We lack mental right now, and we’ve got to continue to get better with it.”
From Tyronn Lue’s perspective, you can look at the game two ways. On one hand, Cleveland got only 10 points in 31 minutes from Kyrie Irving and still had a chance to win a road game against a tough opponent in the final seconds. On the other hand, his team had a nine point lead with five and-a-half minutes to go and coughed it up, which is not something a championship-level team does.
To make matters worse for the Cavs, Toronto has now captured the season series over them two games to one and will earn home court in the event of a tie-breaker. With the Raptors now only two games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, that’s looking more realistic than ever.