CLEVELAND -- The Toronto Raptors have built a roster full of talented players who appear more poised than ever to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy in the coming months. But Wednesday night's 132-129 loss to the Cavs offered another reminder that for all the stability and accomplishments Dwane Casey and his team have earned throughout this season, they still have to contend with the one player who has tortured them for years: LeBron James.
James scored 35 points, dished out 17 assists and grabbed seven rebounds on Wednesday, repeatedly making big plays when the Cavs needed them most as he has done so many times to break the Raptors' spirit. James' 17 assists marked the sixth time he has had 15 or more in a game this season, which is a career high, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
In a scene all too familiar to the Raptors and their fans, James spearheaded a huge Cavs comeback in the second half after his team gave up a season-high 79 points in the first half. James hit crucial shots and made the biggest pass of the night, kicking it out to Kevin Love for a clutch 3-pointer with 27.5 seconds left that gave the Cavs a four-point lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Love finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds while point guard George Hill had his best game with the Cavaliers, going 10-for-11 from the field for 22 points. The Cavs finished with six players in double figures, including all five starters. Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 24 points.
Before the game, Cavs interim head coach Larry Drew downplayed the significance of the contest against the Eastern Conference's top team, in large part because of the fact that the Cavs still are playing without Larry Nance Jr. (hamstring), Rodney Hood (back), Cedi Osman (hip) and Tristan Thompson (ankle). Veteran sharpshooter Kyle Korver also missed Wednesday's game after his brother's death.
On the other end of the hallway inside Quicken Loans Arena, Casey acknowledged how important games against playoff teams were to his group and believed the Raptors could benefit from the experience of another high intensity affair against the Cavs. If the Raptors are intent upon taking another step in their development this season, they know they have to find some way to beat James and the Cavs when the stage is the brightest.
On Wednesday, they left with the same sour taste in their mouths and the same ringing in their ears after it was over: The sound of thousands of Cavs fans chanting "MVP! MVP!" after another dominant James performance.
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