TORONTO • Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James delivered a 43-point masterclass on Thursday that left the dispirited Toronto Raptors wondering if there was anything they could do to slow down one of the greatest players in National Basketball Association (NBA) history.
So dominant was the three-time NBA champion during a stellar second-half performance in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, it looked almost as if he was experimenting with difficult shots just for the fun of it.
According to ESPN.com, James scored or assisted on 45 of the Cavs' 67 points in the second half, nearly accounting for more points than the entire Raptors team (47).
The extent that James went to toy with the Raptors' defence was encapsulated by his seven fadeaways, which ESPN Stats & Information said was the joint-highest in a play-off game for the past 15 years.
And the clinic put on by James - who notched his 23rd play-off game with at least 40 points and a career-equalling fourth this post-season while also tying his play-off career-high of 14 assists - left Toronto coach Dwane Casey with no answers.
"That drains you mentally and physically," he told reporters after the 128-110 defeat that gave the Cavs a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
The number of play-off games with at least 40 points and a career-equalling fourth this post-season by LeBron James
The number of play-off games that the Cavaliers have beaten the Raptors going back to 2016
"He was having one of those nights but we have to keep the scoreboard moving as much as possible at the other end."
Kevin Love, who had his best postseason game yet with 31 points and 11 rebounds, felt James' "special night" was predestined.
"He knew what was at stake. He knew us getting another one at their place was going to be huge for us, and he came out and played that way from the jump tonight," the Cavs forward said.
It was an all-too familiar script for a Toronto team who have been eliminated from the NBA play-offs in two straight years by James and the Cavs, including a four-game sweep at the same stage last season.
The Cavs have emerged victorious in eight play-off games against the Raptors going back to 2016 and this was their fifth consecutive win at Air Canada Centre.
Toronto had higher hopes of overcoming their previous play-off shortcomings, though, after changing their approach this season with a more balanced attack and an effective bench that helped them finish as the Eastern Conference top seeds for the first time in history.
But they now face a tall order in Cleveland, where Games 3 and 4 will move to and the Cavs are 5-0 in post-season appearances at the Quicken Loans Arena.
No NBA team have successfully recovered from being 0-3 down in a best-of-seven play-off series but Raptors' DeMar DeRozan was still defiant despite the uphill task.
"We thrive on adversity, every single guy on this team," said the Raptors guard, who had a team-high 24 points. "We've been in tough situations before and... that is what brings out the best in you and that's the point we are at now."
Unfortunately for Toronto, James has no plans to lift his foot off the Raptors' collective throat.
He said he and his team-mates were not about to get complacent even with home-court advantage and a comfortable lead.
"We will not put our guard down. I won't, so that will trickle down to everybody else," added the 14-time All-Star. "We're not satisfied. We came to play some good basketball up here and we look forward to more of a challenge."
GOLDEN STATE V NEW ORLEANS Game 3: Singtel TV Ch110, 8am