Cleveland — Still unbeaten, still undeniable.
The Cavaliers are rolling through the East with ease.
LeBron James hardly missed and scored 24 points in three quarters, Kyrie Irving scored 27 and Cleveland picked up where it left off before a long layoff by thumping the Toronto Raptors 115-84 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night.
James made his first nine shots — one an arena-rattling powerhouse dunk — and the Cavs, healthy and hungry after losing in the Finals a year ago, shot 67 percent from the field in the first half while improving to 9-0 this postseason. Cleveland is the first team to start the playoffs with nine straight wins since San Antonio reeled off 10 in a row in 2012.
But although the Cavs are more than halfway to winning a title — and ending the city’s 52-year championship drought — James isn’t satisfied.
“I think don’t think we have complacency in our minds,” he said. “We have a goal and our goal is not nine wins. I’ve won nine games before. I’ve won 14 games before. We will face some adversity.”
The 31-point win is the most lopsided in Cleveland’s postseason history.
But unlike their second-round series when they made 77 3-pointers and swept Atlanta, the Cavs did most of their damage from close range. Cleveland made just 7 of 20 3-point attempts.
DeMar DeRozan scored 18 points and Bismack Biyombo added 12 for Toronto, which had just one day to prepare for the Cavs after going to seven games with Miami.
“I thought they were the fresher team, the quicker team,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
Kyle Lowry, who scored 35 points in the Raptors’ series-clinching win over Miami, was held to just eight as he and the Raptors were roughed up in their first appearance in the conference finals.
Unless Toronto figures some things out quickly, these Raptors will be extinct, too.
Game 2 is Thursday night.
Cleveland figured to have some rust following a nine-day break since ousting the Hawks. But not only did the Cavs look refreshed, they looked better than before, taking their game to another level.
And James, as is almost always the case, led the charge. He finished 11 of 13 from the field and added six rebounds and four assists in just 28 minutes. James spent the final quarter on the bench cheering on Cleveland’s reserves.
These are the Cavs at full force, not the version missing Love and Irving in last year’s Finals.
“They waited a full regular season to get back to this moment,” James said of his teammates. “They trained their bodies all season long to get back to this point and those guys have been spectacular.”
The Cavs outscored the Raptors 33-16 in the second quarter when James personally welcomed Canada’s NBA franchise to the East’s final round with a devastating dunk.
Driving baseline past DeMarre Carroll, James cut across the lane and hammered home a right-handed windmill. He celebrated the slam by tilting his head, backpedaling and letting out a primal scream along with 20,000 fans.
The impressive bucket capped a 20-2 spurt for the Cavs, whose swarming defense was making life miserable for Lowry and his teammates. Toronto didn’t get its first field goal until 6:28 remained in the quarter. The Raptors regrouped for a moment and closed within 12 before the Cavs decided enough was enough and closed the half with a 12-4 flurry to go up 66-44.
The Raptors came in as overwhelming underdogs, but Casey wasn’t worried about the stage being too big or his team fearing the Cavs.
He’s still confident his group will bounce back.
“This score is embarrassing,” he said. “But it’s just one game.”
And that might be the scariest thing of all.
76ers win lottery
The Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA draft lottery and will have the No. 1 pick in June.
The Los Angeles Lakers finished second Tuesday night but also felt like winners, as they would have dealt their pick to Philadelphia had they fallen out of the top three.
The Boston Celtics, with a pick dealt to them by the Brooklyn Nets, remained in the No. 3 slot.
Nobody moved up in the lottery, which sets the top three picks. The remainder of the 14 teams are slotted in the inverse order of their won-loss record.
The draft is June 23 in New York.