After successfully deferring to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavalier superstar forward LeBron James hinted he might be ready to take over the Eastern Conference finals. As Cleveland prepares to face the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 of their seven-game series Monday night at Air Canada Centre, James told reporters his plans after Game 3’s 99-84 loss two nights ago.
"I have a game plan tonight personally that I believe will benefit our team tonight," James said.
James could be referring to his usual eruption of scoring that’s largely been dormant during these playoffs. Over 11 games, James has yet to score more than 27 points, even though he is knocking down 52.6 percent of his field-goal attempts.
The four-time MVP hasn't been called upon to carry the team with Irving and Love playing so well throughout the postseason.
That is until Game 3 against the Raptors.
Love and Irving combined to shoot 4-28 from the floor in the loss and the Cavs combined to shoot 14-41 (34.1 percent) from three-point range, a far cry from a postseason-best 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue even admitted to reporters after Game 3 that he should’ve called more plays for James, who has averaged 27.9 points for his postseason career.
But the Raptors stepped up when it counted, and got a big lift from their top perimeter scorer. Shooting guard DeMar DeRozan notched his third 30-point outing of the playoffs with 32 points, five rebounds, and four assists while shooting 12-24 from the field, and 8-9 from the free-throw line.
Raptors head Dwane Casey appears to be running his offense through DeRozan rather than point guard Kyle Lowry, who scored 20 points but received criticism for leaving the bench before the end of halftime in Game 2 because he said he needed to “decompress.”
DeRozan’s scoring barrage notwithstanding, the Raptors also enjoyed a career game from center Bismack Biyombo. The Congolese 23-year-old pulled down 26 rebounds and swatted away four shots to keep Cleveland out of the paint in Game 3.
Biyombo has stepped up as Toronto awaits the return of regular starting center Jonas Valanciunas. The Lithuanian suffered a sprained right ankle in Game 3 against Miami in the second round, and hasn’t played since.
However, Valanciunas did reportedly participate in Monday morning’s shoot around and Casey hinted he could be ready for Game 4. Valanciunas is averaging 15 points and 12.1 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Cleveland will be slightly shorthanded in Game 4 after swingman Dahntay Jones was suspended one game by the league for hitting Biyombo in the midsection area before the end of Game 3.
Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Betting Odds: Cleveland -6 points
Over/Under: 197 points
Prediction: Cleveland has smartly saved James and limited his minutes. It was allowed to do so because Love and Irving were playing so well. But Game 4 is when James takes over the series and pushes the Cavs one game closer to a second straight trip to the finals.
Predicted Score: Cavs over Toronto, 104-94