After a rough blowout loss in Game 2, the Raptors came to Cleveland hoping to avoid a dreaded 3-0 hole. Toronto fought down to the final second, but LeBron James lifted the Cavs to victory with a buzzer-beating floater, leaving Raptors players and coaches stunned on the sideline.
Here are three factors that decided Game 3, starting with a certain 14-time All-Star forward...
Cavs have LeBron James (yep, that's it)
Look, this is obvious, but it's also impossible to ignore. After 38 points, seven assists and six rebounds in Game 3, James is now averaging 35.7 points, 11.3 assists and 8.3 rebounds for the series while shooting 53.6 percent from the field.
Once OG Anunoby's clutch 3-pointer fell through the net and tied the game at 103, was there really any doubt where the ball was going on the ensuing possession?
Unreal. 👑 #WhateverItTakes pic.twitter.com/zsxDkSCj16- Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 6, 2018
But it wasn't just the last-second kiss off the glass. James controlled the pace and flow of the fourth quarter.
He drained a long 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of a defender. He played the two-man game with George Hill, dropping off a pass to the veteran point guard for a layup. And of course, he brought over one of those ridiculous fadeaway jumpers he used throughout Game 2.
LBJ sinks it in crunch time! #WhateverItTakes pic.twitter.com/n00lqu8j4S- NBA (@NBA) May 6, 2018
The Raptors don't have an answer for James. No East contenders have been able to stop him for the last seven seasons, and that number could be eight by the end of these playoffs.
There is only one LeBron, and he plays for the Cavs. The problem for the Raptors is simple. That doesn't mean it's easy to solve.
Cavs' secondary scoring
James has carried the Cavs all season, but in Cleveland's last two wins, his teammates have taken some weight off his shoulders.
Kevin Love struggled throughout the Cavs' first-round series with the Pacers and shot 3-of-13 in Game 1 against the Raptors, leaving many wondering if the old version of Love still existed. He shut down any critics in Games 2 and 3 - Love has averaged 26.0 points and 13.5 rebounds in the last two contests with a raw plus-minus of plus-41.
The benefit of having a dominant Love goes beyond the numbers, though. The Cavs are able to run their offense through him during certain stretches and give James precious rest so he's ready to log heavy minutes late in the game. Love rattled off seven points in the third quarter with James on the bench, including an and-one finish that looked like a shot-put throw.
KEVIN. LOVE. #WhateverItTakes pic.twitter.com/Q4B2IW2blG- Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 6, 2018
And it's not just Love. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver added 18 points (4-of-6 on 3-pointers), and George Hill contributed 12 points, a big boost considering fellow starter J.R. Smith didn't make a shot in Game 3.
The brilliance of James always gives the Cavs a chance, but the supporting cast is what has changed the complexion of this series and the East playoff bracket.
DeMar DeRozan disappears
Give credit to Kyle Lowry for carrying the Raptors with 27 points and seven assists in the loss, but he really could have used some help from his backcourt buddy.
DeRozan finished with only eight points on 3-of-12 shooting with three turnovers. The Cavs attacked DeRozan with plenty of double-teams and traps, clearly emphasizing the importance of forcing the ball out of his hands.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey benched DeRozan for the final 14 minutes of Game 3, choosing instead to stick with players like Lowry, Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and C.J. Miles. It didn't sound like DeRozan was given an explanation for the surprising move, but the group Toronto had on the floor cut down a significant deficit, so Casey likely just stuck with what was working.
"I just want to be out there helping my team, way more than anything," DeRozan said after the game. "It definitely sucks to be watching, but like I said, you've got to give credit to those guys. We fought hard, gave ourselves a chance to win."
The Raptors will look to shake off this disappointing loss and extend the series with a win Monday night in Game 4. They can't pull that off without a fully engaged DeRozan on the floor.