This isn't new territory. It's the same movie we've seen before. Perhaps the most impressive thing about what LeBron James does is the simple and overwhelming inevitability of it all. Two wins away from his sixth consecutive series win in the Eastern Conference Finals, what's unnerving is the sense of ease of it all. There's no mystery, and unlike a season ago, there doesn't even seem to be very much effort.
Let's be clear, and it's not to take anything away from the Toronto Raptors, or the Atlanta Hawks, or the Detroit Pistons. Each team won at least 44 games in the regular season. The Hawks and Raptors boasted multiple All-Stars. Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap will make All-NBA teams. But the Hawks, and to this point the Raptors, have not even put a dent in the Cleveland Cavaliers' title hopes. When asked at shoot-around if he thinks the Cavs need to deal with some adversity, LeBron James seemed to need a second to even remember the team's second-round opponent.
The East is better than it was a year ago at this time, even if the Hawks took a step back this season. But the discussion misses the entire point. The East is bad in part because each year it's the same LeBron James ripping off ferocious dunks, finding cutters, guarding three or more positions, and willing his team to win. In the Cavs' 108-89 Game 2 victory over the Raptors, James played just 34 minutes and took just 17 shots. To that line he added 11 rebounds, 11 assists, and just two turnovers. The Raptors weren't a great defensive team in the regular season, and even on a night when the Cavs missed their fair share of three point attempts, were no match for James and his Cavs.
It was his first triple-double of the playoffs. He passed Shaquille O'Neal on the playoff scoring list. An appreciative crowd gave him two distinct standing ovations. It was all things we've seen before from him, but it isn't supposed to come this easy, this far into the Spring. The series with the Raptors is just underway, but the team from Toronto has yet to land their first punch, and it could very well be half over.
The Raptors appeared to adjust for Game 2 by playing more physical on the perimeter. DeMarre Carroll was very active with his hands, and appeared to want to at least make James feel him. It didn't matter to the result, but the Cavs got there in a different way. He hadn't been getting to the free throw line, but did tonight. While James only made nine of them, 17 attempts is more in line with what you'd expect.
LeBron James came into Game 2 averaging 37.7 minutes per game, the lowest in the playoffs of his career. He played 34 tonight. His usage rate is a fraction of what it was a year ago when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hobbled for much of the playoffs. Ty Lue mentioned after the game that he understands what it's like to be on the other end of this East dominance. He coached with Doc Rivers in Boston and saw that Celtics team last big run ended by LeBron James' Miami Heat. He said it was devastating.
It looks like the sixth straight year of devastation.