CLEVELAND • LeBron James was familiar with this situation. Not much catches the National Basketball Association superstar by surprise, not after so many seasons and so many play-off runs.
On Wednesday, he strode into the pressure cooker known as Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. For the 13th time in his career, his team were deadlocked in a series at 2-2.
So, this was nothing new to James, who channelled his inner yogi by emphasising tranquility before the game.
"Just a sense of calmness," he said. "That's all. A very calm moment for myself, personally. I relish this opportunity."
Sure enough, the Cavaliers played with a sense of calm.
They calmly leaked out for dunks. They calmly buried jump shots. They calmly defended and forced turnovers and went about the inhospitable business of eviscerating the Toronto Raptors in a 116-78 victory at the Quicken Loans Arena.
Behind James, who finished with 23 points, eight assists and six rebounds, Cleveland seized a 3-2 lead. And, while neither team have won a game on the road, the Cavaliers can secure a second straight trip to the NBA Finals with a win in Toronto today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time).
After losing two games at the Air Canada Centre, the Cavaliers returned home and looked like a different team. Gone were their defensive lapses. Gone were their doubts.
"They kicked our butts," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "That's the bottom line."
Kyrie Irving added 23 points in the Cavaliers' most lopsided play-off victory in franchise history, eclipsing their 31-point victory at home in the series opener.
Cleveland's faith was also restored in forward Kevin Love, who scored a team-high 25 points on eight-of-10 shooting after making just five-of-23 in the two losses in Toronto.
"We had our aggression today from the start. It started with Kevin and we followed his lead," James said. "He is a big reason we were able to play as well as we did today.
"When Kevin is aggressive like we saw then we want to keep giving him the ball. He was spectacular."
Cleveland, who shot 57 per cent from the field, have outscored the Raptors by 88 points in their three home games. More impressive, perhaps, was their defence.
The Raptors' DeMar DeRozan, finished with 14 points but was two of eight from the field.
Kyle Lowry had 13 points. In Toronto's two wins, DeRozan and Lowry had combined to average 59.5 points a game.
James said containing those two was crucial.
"You have got to keep two guys in front of them all the time. Make them see four hands and keep them off the free throw line," he said.
The contest was all but over after the first quarter, when Cleveland's 37 points were the most they have scored in any quarter in this series.
Toronto trailed by 18 after one period, and they did not pass 37 points until the early stages of the third quarter.
The Raptors' 65-34 half-time deficit was the first time in franchise history they trailed by at least 30 points in any game.
James thinks the Cavaliers can land the knockout punch in Game 6, but there is no margin for error on Canadian soil.
"It is going to be extremely difficult," he said.
"Playing in that beast of an arena, we've got to be composed and we got to be tough."
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
CLEVELAND V TORONTO
Game 6: StarHub Ch202, tomorrow, 8.30am