LeBron James doesn’t prolong the inevitable.
The last seven times that James’ teams have had a 3-0 lead in a playoff series, the matchup has ended in the most humane fashion – a sweep. He gets a chance at another Sunday, when Cleveland can oust Toronto and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
That’s one of three Game 4s on Sunday’s NBA playoff slate: Boston and Washington continue their bruising series with the Celtics leading that East semifinal matchup 2-1, and San Antonio – which proved on Friday that it won’t buckle easily after losing Tony Parker for the season – will look to go up 3-1 in its West semifinal series against Houston.
Those Celtics-Wizards and Spurs-Rockets matchups look like they might last a while.
The Cavaliers-Raptors one, not so much.
History says it’s over: No NBA team has wasted a 3-0 series lead, James has never coughed up as much as a 2-0 series lead, and even if the Raptors get injured point guard Kyle Lowry (ankle) back for Sunday he surely won’t be anywhere near his best. Going back to last season’s rally in the NBA Finals the Cavs have won 10 consecutive playoff games, three shy of the NBA’s record set by the Los Angeles Lakers over the 1988 and 1989 postseasons.
And James is making it look easy – 34.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game so far in these playoffs, on 57 percent shooting. Such a stat line has never been done by anyone over the course of an entire postseason.
Here’s some of what to know going into Sunday:
Cavaliers at Raptors, Cleveland leads 3-0. Game 4, 3:30 p.m., ABC.
NEED TO KNOW: James’ teams are 79-20 vs. the East over the last seven postseasons, and he’s now just 176 points shy of passing Michael Jordan for the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring record. Cleveland has won every game in the series by double digits, and even though DeMar DeRozan was great in Game 3 (37 points), the Raptors just didn’t have enough to keep close.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving has the scoring numbers in these playoffs (23.3 per game), but his shooting is just under 40 percent. Confidence isn’t exactly an issue for Uncle Drew, but the Cavs wouldn’t mind seeing him improve on the 7-for-20 performance that he’s averaged over the last five games.
INJURY UPDATE: Lowry is questionable.
PRESSURE IS ON: Nobody. Toronto is playing for pride. Cleveland is playing for a longer rest.
Celtics at Wizards, Boston leads 2-1. Game 4, 6:30 p.m., TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: Celtics G Isaiah Thomas has been all over the scoring map in the first three games, with 33, 53 and 13 points, respectively. The Celtics averaged 126 points in the first two games, then managed only 89 in Game 3. John Wall has been super for Washington, averaging 28 points and 12.3 assists.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The physicality. There were eight technicals and three ejections in Game 3, both teams are proudly talking about how much they don’t like the other side, and the Kelly Oubre-Kelly Olynyk dustup – while tame by past NBA playoff altercation standards – is surely going to have some carry over into Sunday.
INJURY UPDATE: Thomas (teeth issues) will play with a temporary bridge, one the Celtics are prepared to replace on the fly if necessary.
PRESSURE IS ON: The referees. Expect Sunday’s crew to set the tone by not letting either side get away with too much extra-curricular activity in the first few minutes, perhaps sending a message that everyone would prefer to see a series decided by scoring instead of shoving.
Spurs at Rockets, San Antonio leads 2-1. Game 4, 9 p.m., TNT.
NEED TO KNOW: The Spurs haven’t lost in Houston since Christmas 2015, going 4-0 since that day. James Harden had 43 points in Game 3, but the Spurs clamped down on Houston’s other shooters – Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Patrick Beverley shot a combined 6 for 31.
KEEP AN EYE ON: What Houston changes defensively, if anything. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge each scored 26 for San Antonio in Game 3, and Danny Green had his 3-point stroke working when the Spurs needed it most. The Spurs had the Rockets guessing all night, and by crunch time Houston clearly looked frustrated.
INJURY UPDATE: Parker (left leg) is out for the playoffs.
PRESSURE IS ON: A bit more on San Antonio. Houston has won twice in San Antonio this season, and going back to the Spurs’ house in a 2-2 tie won’t strike much fear in the Rockets. The Spurs can take complete control on Sunday.
TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 5: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs on May 5, 2017 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)