CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 23 points then grabbed a seat, Kevin Love scored 25, and the Cleveland Cavaliers unleashed tenacious defense on Toronto to regain control of the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-78 rout of the Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Back on their home court following two straight losses in Canada, the Cavs opened a 34-point lead in the first half and never slowed while taking a 3-2 series lead.
They can clinch their second straight conference title and trip to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 6 on Friday night in Toronto.
The Raptors, who came in with momentum and confidence after winning Games 3 and 4, left Quicken Loans Arena shaken and one loss from having their deepest playoff run stopped.
James had eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes before checking out late in the third quarter with the Cavs up 37. He spent the fourth quarter resting on the bench while Cleveland’s reserves finished the romp.
Kyrie Irving added 23 points and he, James and Love outscored the Raptors 43-34 in the first half. Cleveland has won its three games in the series by a combined 88 points.
DeMar DeRozan scored 14 points and Kyle Lowry had 13 for the Raptors, who were overwhelmed from the start. Bismack Biyombo had just four rebounds after getting 40 the past two games. The only positive for Toronto was center Jonas Valanciunas, who returned after missing eight straight games with a sprained right ankle. He scored nine points in 18 minutes.
Playing defense as if every possession was the game’s last, Cleveland held Toronto to just 34 points in the opening half while building a 31-point halftime lead — the largest in conference finals history. Since their expansion arrival in 1993, the Raptors had never been down by 30 points before in any game — regular or postseason — at halftime but they have rarely seen a defense like this either.
The Cavs were all over the court, swarming and stifling DeRozan and Lowry, who combined for 67 points in Game 4.
A courtside doctor might have stopped this one in the first half.
Love found his shooting touch after it went missing during the lost weekend in Toronto, where he went just 5 of 23 from the field and was benched for the fourth quarter of Game 4. He finished 8 of 10 from the field, a confidence-boosting performance that should temporarily quiet his critics.
The Cavs made a point of getting Love the ball right away and he responded by making all four field goal attempts, including a 3-pointer late in the first quarter that pushed the Cavs to a 37-19 lead.
Cleveland’s onslaught continued in the second quarter, and when James got free for an easy two-handed dunk, Cavs fans could relax and begin making TV viewing plans for Friday night.
But while it would have been understandable for Cleveland fans, who have waited since 1964 to celebrate a championship to be nervous, James was cool.
Following the morning shootaround, the four-time MVP promised to bring a sense of “calmness” to the arena. After all, this was his 13th appearance in a Game 5 with the series tied and he wasn’t about to show any anxiety. But once he and the Cavs took the court, they were anything but serene.
These looked more like the Cavaliers who opened the postseason with 10 straight wins, obliterated the Raptors by a combined 50 points in Games 1 and 2 and given a chance to beat whomever survived in the West.
The Cavs attacked — at both ends — and knocked the Raptors out before the fight began.
Raptors: Dropped to 2-7 on the road in this postseason. … Played a game every other day since April 29, going 7-7. . Biyombo and Valanciunas are the only teammates with at least 120 rebounds this postseason.
Cavaliers: Trumped their 31-point win in Game 1, which was the previous most lopsided playoff victory in team history. … James played in his 191st career postseason game, moving him ahead of Magic Johnson for 12th place on the all-time list. … James (1,320) is tied with Kobe Bryant (1,320) for the second-most free throws in postseason history. Michael Jordan made 1,463. … Improved to 7-0 at home in these playoffs.
Game 6 is Friday night in Toronto.