It would have been a career night for nearly any other player in the N.B.A., but for LeBron James, a line of 29 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ series-clinching win against the Toronto Raptors on Monday hardly seemed noteworthy. That’s how outlandish expectations for James have gotten.
These playoffs have offered plenty of highlights for James. He’s crossed the 40-point mark four times, recorded two triple-doubles, and hit two game-winning buzzer beaters. He broke Tim Duncan’s record for career postseason minutes played (in 28 fewer games than Duncan) and he so thoroughly humiliated the top-seeded Raptors on their home court that the term “LeBronto” was coined.
He even managed to make high-arching fadeaway jumpers from the midrange look cool as he regularly used DeMar DeRozan’s signature shot to defeat him.
But in Monday’s 128-93 win in Cleveland that gave the Cavaliers a sweep of the Eastern Conference semifinal series, James’s often-underwhelming supporting cast provided nearly as many first-half highlights as their unquestioned leader did. Kevin Love, never known for his defensive tenacity, was a force around the basket, J.R. Smith poured in 12 first-quarter points, and Kyle Korver did stellar work beyond the perimeter, going 3 for 3 from 3-point range.
James scored just 2 points in the first quarter and 10 in the half. But even his most frequent detractor, the FS1 commentator Skip Bayless, seemed to understand that taking things easy for a little while and letting the other Cavaliers do the heavy lifting made sense.
James was never going to take the whole game off. In the second half he reasserted himself as the center of the Cavaliers’ universe and slammed the door on the Raptors, extending his own record to 12 career sweeps in best-of-seven series. The latest quick dismissal earned James and his teammates a minimum of five days of rest before they play another game, which could stretch to seven depending on how the series between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers plays out. (Philadelphia picked itself off the mat in Game 4 on Monday, avoiding a sweep by Boston.)
“We’re about to get some rest,” James said emphatically in an on-court interview broadcast on TNT. “I’m definitely about to get some rest.”