NEW YORK: LeBron James scored 33 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers booked their place in the NBA finals with a 113-87 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
James contributed six assists and 11 rebounds as the Cavs completed a 4-2 series victory to advance to the finals for a second year running.
The Cavaliers will face either the Golden State Warriors or the Oklahoma City Thunder in next week’s finals. Oklahoma City currently leads the Western Conference series 3-2 ahead of Game Six on Saturday.
James will be playing in the NBA finals for the sixth straight year. The Cleveland star reached the finals for four years in a row with the Miami Heat before returning to Cleveland in 2014.
“I knew this was going to be tough game coming to this building — I just had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shots,” said a delighted James. “I knew once my shots started going in I could start getting my team-mates involved and they were able to carry me down the stretch.”
The Cavaliers’ appearance in the finals caps a rollercoaster season which saw head coach David Blatt fired in January and replaced with Tyronn Lue.
James himself had earlier in the season voiced doubts as to whether the Cavaliers had the ability to challenge for the title — reservations which seemed a distant memory in the afterglow of Friday’s win.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground and I still believe we can get better,” James said.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. But take nothing away from what we’ve done — our guys are unbelievable, our coaching staff are unbelievable.”
The Cavaliers had taken a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against Toronto before being jolted by back-to-back defeats as the Raptors leveled at 2-2.
But Cleveland reasserted their superiority on Wednesday to regain the initiative with a win in Game Five before ramming home their advantage to silence the home crowd in Toronto on Friday.
It was James’s first 30-point game of the 2015 postseason, with the Cavaliers also benefiting from big contributions from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Irving finished with 30 points with Love adding 20 as well as 12 rebounds and four assists.
Toronto meanwhile brought the curtain down on their first ever appearance in the Eastern Conference finals with a 35-point display from Kyle Lowry, while DeMar DeRozan added 20 points.
James is looking forward to having Irving and Love firing on all cylinders after the bitter memory of last season, when both players missed the bulk of the NBA finals against Golden State with injuries.
“I’m so proud of those two guys,” James said. “They worked their tails off through adversity to get back. Big-time performances and big-time leadership from those two guys and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Cavs coach Lue meanwhile said he was looking forward to challenging in the finals with a full complement of players.
“Getting back to the championship with everybody healthy, it’s our chance to really show what we can do,” said Lue, praising James for helping the Cavaliers get off to a solid early start with a 14-point display in the first quarter.
“We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that,” Lue said.
“I needed him to take charge and take the lead in that first quarter. He really did that for us tonight. He’s just a great player. He’s a proven winner.
Love attributed the Cavs’ victory to team unity. “We all have trust in each other, we all have each other’s back,” he said.
“We’ve grown throughout the season. We’re back we’re we want to be but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Love’s sentiment was shared by Lue.
“The biggest thing that I’m proud of is that we came together. We trusted,” Lue said.
“You could see that on the floor. It’s beautiful to watch.”