TORONTO â€” Dunking off the backboard. Drinking a beer. Nonchalantly spinning the ball in Serge Ibaka’s face.
LeBron James’s apparent lack of respect for Toronto has added some drama to the Eastern Conference semifinals â€” at the Raptors’ expense.
“We can’t allow that type of freedom, that type of comfort with him or any other player, to be able to spin the ball like that,” Raptors guard Norm Powell said Friday morning after shootaround. “It’s disrespectful. But it shows us that we’re playing too soft. We need to come out with a mentality and a physicality and a force on both ends that says, ‘You’re not gonna get anything easy.’
“It shouldn’t have happened. It stops tonight.”
Cleveland won the first two games of the best-of-seven series at home. Game 3 is set for Friday night at Air Canada Centre.
Two nights earlier, James shot a three-pointer over Toronto shot-blocker Ibaka, but not before pausing to spin the ball twice in his hands, as if he was lining up to shoot a free throw.
Video of the play blew up on social media.
It was a similar story in Game 1, with James instructing point guard Kyrie Irving to toss the ball off the backboard for an alley-oop dunk you’d normally only see in an all-star game. He also snatched a beer from a sideline hostess and pretended to take a swig.
James’s hijinks were the topic of an ESPN basketball panel, which compiled a montage of similar LeBron incidents, including a game this season in New York where the Cavs star appeared so bored he was playing the “water-bottle challenge” while on the bench.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said his players should use James’s behaviour as motivation.
“That play, throwing it off (the glass), having a beer on the sideline … all of those things should get you upset to compete, not to compete but to make it a physical contest,” Casey said.
Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry was “pretty upset” with James’s ball-spinning.
“Not that he did it. He should spin the ball, he’s comfortable, we can’t let him be comfortable, we have to make him uncomfortable,” Lowry said. “He’s in a situation right now where he’s playing very comfortably and the things he’s doing are comfortable. If I was comfortable I would do the same thing.”
How can the Raptors’ extinguish James’s behaviour?
“Play harder,” Lowry said.
James, who scored 74 points combined in Games 1 and 2, was asked about the Ibaka play after Friday’s shootaround.
“I was just basically in my zone, in my comfort zone and after I spun the ball and I jabbed him, I (saw) what I needed to see from the defender to be able to get that shot off,” James said. “If I didn’t see it, I would have drove it and if I didn’t have the drive, I would have (given) it up and let one of my teammates attack.”
Lori Ewing , The Canadian Press