TORONTO • LeBron James' "worst" was still too much for the Toronto Raptors to handle as the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied to stun the hosts 113-112 in overtime for their fourth straight play-off victory at Air Canada Centre.
Should the Raptors fail to stop the king and his men from holding court again, they will surely look back at the missed opportunity on Tuesday night.
Despite having been eliminated by the Cavaliers in the past two National Basketball Association (NBA) post-seasons, confidence had been sky-high in Toronto that history was not going to repeat itself.
After all, they were going into Game 1 of their semi-final series as the Eastern Conference's top seeds for the first time while the Cavs had just been taken to seven games by the Indiana Pacers.
But the Raptors blew their chance. Although they never lost the lead in regulation time, they allowed James to tie the score at 105-105 with 30.9sec left before going on to miss their last 11 shots.
Cleveland's Kyle Korver punished their profligacy with a three-pointer which opened overtime.
Kyle Lowry converted a three-point play to pull Toronto within 113-112 with 57sec remaining, but team-mate Fred VanVleet missed a potential game-winner as the Cavs held on for the win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
James claimed he was nowhere near his "efficient" best despite recording his 21st career triple-double with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, hailed his team-mates for responding to adversity.
"It was an all-around team win for us," the 14-time All-Star said in a post-game interview after five Cavs players scored in double figures.
"Everybody contributed tonight, and we needed it. I definitely wasn't as efficient as I like to be.
"I missed a lot of open looks. It was probably one of my worst games of the season.
"But, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that my team-mates stepped up and got the win when I wasn't at my best."
J.R. Smith scored 20 points, Korver added 19, Tristan Thompson had 14 points and Jordan Clarkson chipped in 16 points in a performance that Cavs coach Tyronn Lue labelled as "tough" play.
DeMar DeRozan scored 22 points while Jonas Valanciunas recorded 21 points for the Raptors.
Lue also felt the Cavs had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, saying: "We didn't play extremely well, but to come in and beat a good team like Toronto on their home floor... it does feel like we stole one."
After the high drama in Toronto, all eyes were on Stephen Curry in Oakland, where the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player scored 28 points on his return from a 16-game injury absence to help champions Golden State Warriors to a 121-116 win over the Pelicans.
He played 27 minutes, during which his team outscored the Pelicans by 26 points, as the Warriors lead 2-0 in their Western Conference semi-final series, which shifts to New Orleans for Games 3 and 4.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
UTAH V HOUSTON
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