CLEVELAND — LeBron James rests better than everyone, too.
James has had a week or more off nine times in his playoff career, and that doesn’t even count the numerous times he’s taken the last week of the regular season off to prepare for the playoffs. In short, he knows what he’s doing.
Over the past few days, Cleveland Cavaliers players and staff were blown away by James’ dominance in practice as he’s looked rested, healthy and full of energy. It led to a quiet confidence heading into Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors on Monday.
“I feel like I’ll be better [in Game 2] on Wednesday,” James said on TNT as he walked off the court. “We made some mistakes, but we made up for it with our energy.”
Irving, who had no assists in 36 minutes in the clincher against the Pacers, came out with an aggressive disposition against Kyle Lowry, looking to both pass and score. He racked up 10 assists (he had just 12 in the entire series against Indiana) and his usual array of crossovers, twisting layups and lobs on the way to 24 points.
That performance neutralized the efforts of Lowry, who had his moments and finished with 20 points and 11 assists. But if the Raptors play that matchup to a draw, it’s going to be hard to win the series.
It was clear that a primary facet of the Cavs’ game plan developed during their nine days off was to slow down DeMar DeRozan, who gave the Cavs problems last season during the Eastern Conference finals.
The Cavs had used some traps against Paul George in the last round, but they gave DeRozan, and to a lesser extent Lowry, double teams to try to keep him from getting momentum toward the rim. He managed 19 points but was just 7-of-16 from the field. Over the first three quarters, DeRozan was a horrifying minus-29 in plus/minus, a number that showed just how effective the Cavs’ strategy was. DeRozan finished a game-worst minus-32.
In all, it was clearly the Cavs’ best defensive performance of the postseason. The Raptors racked up some points in the fourth, but when the game was being decided, the Raptors shot only 43.3 percent through three quarters, with just eight free throw attempts.