(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports/David Richard)
LeBron James improved to 13-0 in first-round postseason series over his storied career, but he had to work for it like never before as the Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32) outlasted the Indiana Pacers in a hard-fought seven-game tussle.
James added another chapter to his list of already-lengthy accolades as the fourth-seeded Cavaliers fought off the Pacers 105-101 on Sunday, totaling 45 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals while making 16 of 25 shots. He averaged 34.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks in the series while shooting a stellar 55.3 percent and played 40 or more minutes in all but Cleveland's blowout loss in Game 6.
While getting to the second round comes naturally for James, winning without home-court advantage has been a 50/50 proposition. He has a 7-7 record in postseason series when his teams do not have the benefit of a Game 7 in front of a friendly crowd, going 4-4 in such matchups in the Eastern Conference in addition to a 3-3 mark in the NBA Finals.
Top-seeded Toronto (59-23) are in the conference semifinals for the third straight year but also had to work to advance to the second round as they got past Washington in six games. After the home team held through the first five contests, the Raptors finally put forth an effort befitting their 25-16 road record in the regular season with a 102-92 victory in Washington to eliminate the Wizards.
This is the third straight year the teams are meeting in the postseason and the second consecutive year it has come in the second round. The Cavaliers swept aside the Raptors in four games as James had at least 35 points in all four wins and shot a blistering 57.3 percent, hitting 13 of 27 from 3-point range, while also averaging 8.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. That came after Cleveland bested Toronto in six games in the 2016 Eastern Conference finals.
Cleveland took two of three from Toronto in the regular season as the home team won all three games. In a season with so many standout performances by James, his effort in the Cavaliers' 132-129 victory March 15 was one to remember as he rallied Cleveland from a 15-point halftime deficit after Toronto had torched them for 79 first-half points and finished with 35 points and 17 assists without committing a turnover.