CLEVELAND — Kevin Love worked his way inside for an easy basket to start the game, then splashed a 3-pointer in transition.
The Cleveland Cavaliers forward waved to the crowd to grow louder and capped a brilliant first half by zipping a two-handed, overhead pass halfway down the court to LeBron James for a dunk.
This was the Love the Cavaliers enjoyed during their 10-game winning streak. This is the Love they will need to win a championship.
Love rebounded from two dreadful shooting games to score a game-high 25 points, James had 23 points, eight assists and six rebounds, and the Cavaliers dismantled the Toronto Raptors in a 116-78 win Wednesday that gives Cleveland an emphatic 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
“You could tell he wanted the ball,” Cavs guard J.R. Smith said of Love. “As much as I got it, I was trying to look for him for either post-ups or threes. He really got it going. That was big for us.”
Kyrie Irving added 23 points in the Cavaliers’ most lopsided playoff win in franchise history — surpassing their 31-point victory at home in Game 1 of this series. It was the fifth-largest margin of victory in conference finals history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau
The Cavs have outscored the Raptors by 88 points in their three home games. Cleveland can close out Toronto and return to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year with a win Friday in Game 6 at Air Canada Centre.
Game 7, if necessary, would be Sunday in Cleveland.
The game was effectively over after the first quarter, when the Cavs’ 37 points were the most they scored in any quarter in the series. The Raptors trailed by 18 after one period, and they didn’t surpass 37 points until the first two minutes of the third quarter.
Toronto didn’t surpass the Cleveland Big Three’s total of 71 points until the game’s last few minutes — and all three Cavs stars sat the entire fourth quarter. The Raptors trailed 65-34 at halftime, the first time in franchise history they trailed by at least 30 points in any game, regular season or postseason.
“They kicked our butts,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Kyle Lowry had 13 points and six assists, and DeMar DeRozan scored 14 points for the Raptors after they totaled 67 points in Toronto’s Game 4 win at home. The backcourt partners shot a combined 7-for-20 in Game 5.
“We lost the game in the first quarter,” said Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll, who scored five points. “They scored their first eight points off of offensive rebounds. That’s just effort and heart.”
Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas appeared for the first time in the series after battling a sprained ankle, and he scored nine points in 19 minutes. Bismack Biyombo had seven points and four rebounds after dominating the paint during the Raptors’ two wins in Toronto.
This time, however, the Cavs displayed the type of dominance they flashed in winning 10 straight to open the postseason. The biggest key to the turnaround was Love, who struggled miserably during the two losses at Toronto and compounded matters by twisting his knee during the third quarter of Game 4.
Love made his first six shots Wednesday and finished the night 8-for-10 from the floor, including 3-for-4 from the 3-point arc. He shot 5-for-23 during the two losses at Toronto, prompting Cavs coach Tyronn Lue and a handful of players to keep encouraging Love to shoot.
“These guys told me, ‘Always play better when you’re aggressive,'” Love said. “That aggression more often than not pays off.”
The Cavs rebounded from two pitiful showings defensively to hold the Raptors to 39 percent shooting, including 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
“I’ve been part of some really adverse situations, and I just didn’t believe that this was one of them,” James said, referring to the losses in the previous two games. “Just been very calm about the whole situation, understanding that our guys knew what we did and what we didn’t accomplish in Toronto. From the very moment we lost Game 4, I was just very calm about the whole situation.”
The Raptors go home facing elimination but knowing they have beaten the Cavs four consecutive times in their building between the regular season and postseason.
“It was embarrassing tonight the way we played, but it’s one game,” Casey said. “It’s still 3-2, and yes, they spanked us here, but also we won two games in Toronto, and we go away with that confidence.”
NOTES: This was the 13th time in Cleveland F LeBron James’ career he entered a Game 5 with the series tied 2-2. He is 7-6 in those contests. … After averaging 19 3-pointers per game and shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the arc in the conference semifinals, the Cavaliers entered Game 5 shooting 33 percent and averaging 10.3 3-pointers in the conference finals. They were 10-for-21 from long distance Wednesday. … The Raptors have played a game every other day in May. “We’re used to going game, day off, game, day off,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Our rhythm has been there because we’ve done it for almost a month now. That has helped.” … Toronto C Jonas Valanciunas was cleared to play in Game 4, but he did not play in part because Bismack Biyombo performed so well in his absence.