LeBron’s fadeaway has Raptors on ropes


Raptors suddenly

endangered species

Associated Press

CLEVELAND

LeBron James has perfected a signature, soul-crushing shot that also seems to describe what’s happening again to the Toronto Raptors.

The fadeaway.

With cold-blooded precision, James worked the 24-second shot clock down to single digits before sinking one fadeaway after the next in Game 2 on Thursday night, each swish pushing the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference closer to ending a season that was supposed to conclude differently.

Instead, it’s a replay: another Raptors extinction is expected.

Back from LeBronto, as some have nicknamed Canada’s multi-cultural metropolis, James and the Cavaliers — featuring a rejuvenated Kevin Love — will host Game 3 on tonight. They look to tighten their stranglehold on a semifinal series that has gotten away from the Raptors.

In the East’s other semifinal, the Philadelphia Sixers are trusting their process — and that Ben Simmons will shake off a horrible performance in Game 2 — before they fall into their own 3-0 hole against a Boston Celtics team that added a spectacular comeback to a season of overcoming long odds. Boston wiped out Philly’s 22-point lead on Thursday to open a 2-0 lead.

For the Raptors, this is all so familiar, so painful.

They insist that the magnificent James, who has won eight straight playoff games against the Raptors and eliminated Toronto from the past two postseasons, is not in their heads. That’s what the Raptors are saying; they might not believe it.

After James dropped shots and jaws with 43 points on 28 shots with 14 assists and eight rebounds in Game 2, All-Star forward DeMar DeRozan insisted the Raptors will fight back.

“It’s the first one to win four,” he said. “It’s not over.”

History begs to differ.

James is 21-0 in playoff series in which he has held a 2-0 lead, and the 33-year-old seems intent on dispatching the Raptors for a third straight postseason and maybe get to his eighth straight Finals.

“When he retires, that’s what you admire what he’s done,” said Toronto coach Dwane Casey. “Right now he’s the enemy and we’ve got to do a better job of not being part of history. We’ve got to make LeBron work harder for his catches and work harder for some of his possessions. You’ve got to live with something. Some of those shots are indefensible.”

A closer look at Saturday’s game:

RAPTORS AT CAVALIERS

Cleveland leads 2-0. Game 3, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

NEED TO KNOW

James continues to ascend and astound. He’s averaging 34.4 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 41.7 minutes in his 13th postseason. He has led Cleveland in points and assists in 10 consecutive playoff games, tying Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson for the longest such streak in postseason history.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Toronto’s defense on James and Love, who scored 31 in Game 2. Casey has to try something new to slow down James because nothing is working. His ability to post up creates a dilemma: guard him with one player and he gets to the rim; double-team him and risk him finding an open teammate for an uncontested shot.

The Raptors need to force some mistakes after the Cavs had a franchise playoff record-low three turnovers in Game 2.

INJURY UPDATE

Both teams are relatively healthy.

PRESSURE IS ON

DeRozan and Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. They’ve spent the past two years chasing and not catching James. The only way for the Raptors not to be considered pretenders again is for them to dethrone King James and they’re running out of time.

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