CLEVELAND, United States, May 2 – LeBron James sparked defending NBA champion Cleveland over Toronto while James Harden powered the Houston Rockets to an epic rout of San Antonio in second-round playoff openers on Monday.
James scored 35 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Kyrie Irving added 24 points and 10 assists and Kevin Love had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Cavaliers ripped the visiting Raptors 116-105 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference matchup.
“The energy was phenomenal,” James said. “We pushed the ball, passed the ball like we wanted.”
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James hit 13-of-23 shots from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free throw line while Tristan Thompson contributed 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who James warned will be better in game two.
“I feel like I’ll be a lot better on Wednesday,” James said. “Little bit of rhythm here and conditioning there, I think a lot of our mistakes we were able to cover up for because our energy level was high.”
Harden had 20 points and 14 assists while Trevor Ariza scored 23 points and Clint Capela contributed 20 points and 13 rebounds as the Rockets dumped the host Spurs 126-99 to start their best-of-seven Western Conference series.
“It’s just one win,” Harden said. “It’s a good win but we’ve got to be ready for game two. They’ve got a lot of fight in them. We missed a few shots. We’ve got to play better in game two.”
The Rockets sank a team playoff record 22 3-pointers on 50 attempts, inflicting the most 3-pointers allowed by the Spurs in playoff history.
San Antonio trailed by as many as 39 points in the team’s largest game-one defeat in playoff history. The Spurs 69-39 half-time deficit was their worst in playoff history.
“We lost and they won and they played better,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We competed but I don’t think we executed in a very wise manner.”
The Spurs and Rockets, in their first playoff meeting since 1995, were two of the three winningest teams in the NBA this season, both trailing Golden State, which opens the second round Tuesday against Utah.
A 15-2 run to open the second quarter put Houston ahead 49-25. The Rockets had 30 assists on 40 baskets, their passing and fast pace humbling the veteran Spurs.
“There are no individual efforts here,” Harden said. “I’ve been proud of that all year.”
The Rockets went 12-of-27 from 3-point range in the first half, already hitting more shots from beyond the arc than in any first-round contest.
Kawhi Leonard led San Antonio with 21 points and 11 rebounds but the Spurs made only 31-of-84 shots from the floor.
– ‘A high flying team’ –
In Cleveland, the Cavaliers scored 10 consecutive points to grab a 22-11 edge and stretched it to 38-20 early in the second quarter. Up 62-48 at half-time, they led by as many as 25 points on the way to victory.
“I thought they were the quicker team and we have to match that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
Irving scored 16 first-half points while James had 13 and Love 11.
“We want to continue to move the ball, share the ball and make everybody feel comfortable with what we’re trying to do,” James said.
The Raptors, who fell to 1-12 in playoff series openers, were led by 20 points from Kyle Lowry and 19 from DeMar DeRozan.
“They get big spurts and we fight back. We have to find ways to eliminate the spurts,” Lowry said. “We know they are going to be a high-flying team that likes to get up and down. But we have to find a way to not let them get going.”