Writer: Caleb Akpan
h/t NBC Sports
After Saturday night, LeBron James has beat the Toronto Raptors in nine straight playoff games. 6 of those 9 wins have been by 10 points or more, and LeBron hasn’t lost a playoff game in Toronto in two years. 2018 looks to be the third straight postseason that James will beat the city in the postseason, but his dominance over Canada’s basketball franchise stretches out to prior to this decade, to times where LeBron looked a lot younger, and the Raptors roster looked very different, but one thing has always remained the same: LeBron James always destroys the Toronto Raptors.
2005: His First 50-Point Game
LeBron James’ legend was in its infancy in 2005, with the days of MVPs and championships still years away. Despite this, James was already showing signs of greatness in 2004-2005 and his best game of that year came against none other than the Toronto Raptors. Toronto was decked out in purple and white at this time and led by another NBA sophomore, Chris Bosh, after trading league superstar Vince Carter weeks earlier. The last thing the new-look Raptors needed was to be in the news again, but James made sure that happened as he went off for 56 points on March 20, 2005. It was the first 50-point game of James’ career, and would hold as his career high for almost a decade. The one thing that made this different from James’ other encounters with Toronto is that LeBron actually lost this game, getting almost no help from his teammates, but this domination without victory wouldn’t last for long……
2008: Bron vs Bosh’s Girlfriend
LeBron and the Raptor’s stock were both rising in 2008. LeBron had become a playoff fixture and perennial all-star who garnered MVP consideration after missing the playoffs his first two seasons. The Raptors had rebounded from the loss of Vince Carter, making the playoffs in 2006-2007 led by Chris Bosh, who was living his best life at the time. Bosh was now an all-star player and one of the best big man in the league and he was also doing well off-the court, happily in a relationship that would come back to bite on the night of January 6, when the Raptors and Cavs met at Air Canada Centre.
With Bosh’s Raptors up 13 going into the fourth quarter, his girlfriend and cousin began heckling James from the sideline. What was LeBron’s response? Score 24 in the fourth…..and steal a win from Toronto. With every bucket, James would glare and yell at Bosh’s group, making sure they were taking in what he was doing, and at the end of the game, James walked right up to the two and offered them the game ball, pointing and yelling “It’s your fault! It’s your fault!”. James reiterated this in his postgame comments and the ghost of LBJ was officially over Toronto, laying in wait until the two teams would meet on one of the NBA’s biggest stages……..
2016: Four Blowouts
A lot changed in the eight years since the last time LeBron truly embarrassed Toronto: James himself had left Cleveland for Miami, won two championships, and then returned back to Cleveland for a year. The Raptors had lost Chris Bosh to the same Miami team James went to and then struggled in mediocrity until 2014. Now, they were lead by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and had improved to 56-26 in 2016, one of the best records in the NBA. Just a game behind LeBron’s Cavaliers, they were confident they could win an Eastern Conference Finals matchup, but that confidence wouldn’t last for long. LeBron and his Cleveland team would beat the Raptors by an average of 25 points in the first two games of the series, with James personally putting up a 23 point, 11 rebound, 11 assists performance in Game 2.
To the Raptors credit, they responded with so far their best punch to James in the playoffs with two straight home wins in Toronto, but James would get right back to his blowout business when the series returned to Cleveland for Game 5. The Cavs demolished the Raptors by 38 points and James made things look easy, scoring 23 points on 10-17 shooting. James didn’t even have to do that much for his team to win, the Raptors couldn’t contain anyone on the Cavs as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also had great games, but Toronto was confident they could go back home and tie the series. LeBron James had other plans, and blew out the Raptors once again, this time on their home court. James had 33, 11, 6, and 3 blocks as the Cavaliers won by 26, ending Toronto’s season infront of the team’s own fans. Luckily a chance for a rematch would come quickly, in the next year’s playoffs.
2017: The Sweep
Cleveland and Toronto both got worse by record in 2017, but that didn’t stop the Raptors from feeling that their second chance against LeBron in the playoffs would be successful. They had a year of experience and a gameplan with better knowledge of what James could do, so there was no way things would get easier for James, except, that’s exactly what happened. LeBron quickly set the tone for the series in game one, scoring 35 and grabbing 10 rebounds in an eleven point win. In Game 2, Cleveland won by 22 and James did even more scoring, this time putting up 39 points on a 71/66/71 shooting split. James by himself outscored the duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Game 2, but the Raptors expected their players to find their way once they crossed the border.
In Game 3, DeRozan showed up to the tune of 37 points with Kyle Lowry out, but James matched him blow for blow with 35, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists as the Cavs once again won in a blowout, this time just a point less than the game before. Despite a tough fight from the Raptors in Game 4, James would just put the team out of their misery with another 35 point game, ending the series in even more embarrassing fashion than before. At least in 2016 the Raptors had won some games and James didn’t play his best. This time, he scored 30 or more in every single game and the Raptors ended their year with a donut next to their name. Major changes were needed in Toronto if they were ever gonna beat LeBron, and they were going to make sure they would be prepared if the two teams were ever going to meet again.
2018: The Upset?
Toronto completely revamped their style for the 2017-2018 season, in large part due to their inability to beat LeBron James in the playoffs. The team moved away from its isolation-based offense and became more pass heavy. Benchplay increased and the Raptors relied more and more on their reserves to play well in big moments to win them games. The pressure was off all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and Toronto was playing freely with a flow unrivaled by most in the NBA. This flow pushed them to an Eastern Conference-best, franchise record 59 wins, all while James’ Cavaliers struggled to find their footing with a revolving door of players. Surely after struggling to beat the Indiana Pacers in 7, James would finally fall to the Raptors in the second round?
While technically still possible, it looks like Toronto will need a miracle to not lose the series. Somehow, after playing their best basketball to date and looking like a team that could win it all, the Toronto Raptors are in the exact same position as they always are: down in a series to LeBron James on the brink of elimination. James himself has looked better than he has ever against Toronto, with 26 point, 11 rebound, 13 assist triple-double in Game 1 and a 43-point stat-sheeting stuffing all-timer in Game 2. If Toronto doesn’t get swept, it would be a surprise to many, despite all of the work they have put in. ESPN commentator Mark Jones felt LeBron was so dominant that he called the city “LeBronto” and memes surrounding the call are already running rampant on the internet. Some teams just can’t make it over the hump or beat certain players, and the Toronto Raptors seem to be in that position. One day that franchise will get its championship, but as long as LeBron James is in the league, it just might have to wait.