TORONTO • LeBron James has had a standing reservation with the National Basketball Association Finals for five consecutive years but the best player of his generation is suddenly in jeopardy of seeing his remarkable streak come to an end.
James has been playing some of the best basketball of his career during this year's play-offs but was unable to rally the Cleveland Cavaliers to a victory on Monday.
Cleveland were beaten 105-99 by the Toronto Raptors, who tied up the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final at 2-2 with a second consecutive home victory.
James, determined to bring a maiden NBA championship to the Cavaliers and snap a city-wide title drought in all major sports that dates back to the National Football League-winning Cleveland Browns in 1964, had a team-high 29 points in the loss.
"It wasn't enough because we got off to a horrible first half once again in this building and you're playing catch-up again," he said of his team's 57-41 deficit after two quarters.
"We are not starting off games the right way. The second quarter has been really bad for us here, so we got to do a better job of that and we can't dig ourselves such a deep hole."
The Cavaliers trimmed the lead to one early in the fourth quarter, but the Raptors used 35 points from Kyle Lowry and 32 by DeMar DeRozan to withstand the fightback.
The Cavaliers even led by three points briefly with 6:04 to play on two free throws by James.
Yet, when Lowry made a driving lay-up with 22.5 seconds to play, the Raptors led by six points.
The Raptors stopped the Cavaliers on their next possession.
Bismack Biyombo, who finished with five points and 14 rebounds, missed two free throws with 4.3 seconds left, but it made no difference.
DeMarre Carroll added 11 points for Toronto.
"We were solid down the stretch, understanding that when they scored we had to come down and get a bucket," guard DeRozan said.
The Cavs only went to the free throw line twice in the second half, finishing eight-for-nine. The Raptors were 14-for-19 at the line in the second half after none in the first.
The defeat marked the first time since 2010 that Cleveland, who were coming off a 15-point Game 3 defeat in Toronto, had lost consecutive play-off games to an Eastern Conference foe.
"They played well the first two games and they protected home," Lowry said. "Now we've protected home."
Kyrie Irving added 26 points for the Cavaliers. Channing Frye scored 12 points off the bench and Kevin Love chipped in 10.
"I guess it's the home-court advantage," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "They have a great home crowd. We have a great home crowd. That crowd gives them energy, just like our crowd gives us energy. Just got to be ready to go back home for Game 5."
Game 5 is tonight (tomorrow morning Singapore time) at the Quicken Loans Arena, where the Raptors are 0-3 this season, losing by a combined 72 points.