Golden State point guard Stephen Curry is known for his ball handling skills and outside shooting, Houston shooting guard James Harden is adept at summoning points in a hurry and Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is a triple-double machine.
But when it comes down to who is the finest all-around player, it’s Cleveland small forward LeBron James, who completed his record 11th sweep in a best-of-seven series last Sunday as the Cavaliers pushed aside Toronto 109-102 in the Eastern Conference semifinals at the Air Canada Centre.
“They played with a lot of pride and they’re battled tested,’’ said James, who dropped in a game-high 35 points and team-best nine rebounds with six assists of the No. 3 seeded Raptors.
Making matters worse for Toronto, All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry missed his second straight game with an ankle injury.
In 2016 and healthy, Toronto lost in six games to Cleveland in the conference finals.
Cory Joseph filled in for Lowry and tallied 20 points with a game-best 12 assists and six caroms.
James was asked what he thought of point guard Kyrie Irving’s outing. “He’s also battle tested and an NBA champion,’’ he said of the four-time All-Star, who hit the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Finals last season.
Irving had 27 points with nine assists and five caroms while shooting guard Kyle Korver came off the bench and contributed 18 points with five boards.
Korver was especially effective in the second quarter when the No. 2 seeded Cavaliers (39 of 82 for 47.6 percent) outscored the Raptors 33-21 and led 61-49 at the half.
James and Korver, a three-point wizard acquired from the Atlanta Hawks, each had 16 points at the break.
Toronto (40 of 85 for 47.1 percent) trailed 69-58 with 6:59 left in the third quarter after power forward Serge Ibaka (team-best 23 points) drilled an 18-footer.
Ibaka’s three with 4:44 left saw Toronto get within 74-67, but the Cavaliers (16 of 41 from three-point range) pulled in front 85-50 after three quarters.
The fourth quarter belonged to Irving, who scored 11 straight points including a running left-hander with four minutes left that made it 103-95.
The Raptors (10 of 29 on three-pointers) led 14-6 on a trey from small forward P.J. Tucker (14 points with a game-high 12 rebounds) and 6:14 showing while Irving’s bucket with 2:57 on the clock cut Toronto’s lead to 23-15.
Cleveland closed out the frame on a 13-2 run as the two were even at 28-28.
When Irving sank a three-pointer and 6:01 left, the Cavaliers were ahead 42-37.
Korver’s shot from beyond the three-point arc with 3:52 remaining made it 51-41.
Toronto small forward and former USC star DeMar DeRozan had 22 points with eight assists and four rebounds.
Rick Assad has written about sports for the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.