As we start Villains Week, let's look at some of the more traumatic moments the Toronto Raptors endured, courtesy of LeBron James.
It wouldn't be right to discuss some of the Toronto Raptors villains without mention one of the most notorious villains in the history of the franchise -- and that is none other than LeBron James. James has had the Raptors' number for the majority (or all) of his career. There must be something about facing the team North of The Border that seems to bring out the best in The King.
James was very similar to the final boss on the last level of a videogame that the Raptors couldn't seem to defeat. Particularly in the last half-decade, Toronto couldn't find an answer for the supervillain, James. He continually dominated them, especially in the postseason. Again and again, the momentum the Raptors championship train had going into the playoffs was abruptly stopped and disposed of by LeBron.
The Raptors breathed a collective sigh of relief when James relocated to the Western Conference and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Shoot, some Toronto fans might've enjoyed seeing James (team-wise) struggle in his first season out West. Perhaps they believe it makes up for some of the seasons he gave the Raptors constant headaches.
LeBron's long and well-documented history between the Toronto Raptors has left the fans and the team with many memories (more bad memories than good ones). The King has put on some masterful (even villainous) performances against Toronto. He has dominated, defeated, and even dilly-dallied with the Raptors in some of these games. In this painful trip down memory lane, we discuss some of the most villainous moments, compliments of the King.
5. 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 2
A performance which could be seen as evil by some and disrespectful (maybe even slightly funny) to others. Traveling back two years to the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Raptors faced LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. After being bounced in six games against James and the Cavs the year prior, the Dwane Casey led Raptors felt like the could get past the King this time around. Unfortunately, James didn't get the memo.
LeBron dominated Game 1 and did more of the same in Game 2. He dropped 39 points on 14 shots, all while passing the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the postseason all-time scoring list. The game wasn't close and LeBron showed how out of control the contest was when he was seen essentially practicing his free throw routine against Serge Ibaka on a three-point attempt.
The nonchalance in LeBron's eyes says it all. He had the look that he was superior to anyone in a Raptors uniform. The fact that he had the audacity to do this in the middle of a playoff game (blowout or not) is just downright disrespectful.
Being the casual villain he is, James downplayed that play simply stating,
"I'm feeling pretty good. Just blessed I'm able to make a few plays tonight to help us win another game."
This was an early sign that the Raptors would be no match for James in this series. Many thought the Raptors had a legitimate shot at taking down LeBron that postseason. After finishing with a 51-31 record and obtaining the third seed, they had a team that had the talent and experience to dethrone James as the King of the East.
This game was a monster by LeBron, and it signified that the Raptors will have a very long series. They ended up getting swept, being no match for The King and his men. LeBron James single-handedly dismantled the Raptors in game two and showed that he is still the Boogieman that creeps in the Raptors' closet.
4. January 6, 2008: Fourth Quarter Takeover
Even though LeBron has been a pain in the Raptors side more often in recent years, this performance back in 2008 was sensational. Remember when Thanos was about to get the infinity gauntlet taken away before he slaughtered the Avengers in 'Avengers: Infinity War'? That is how Lebron operated in this game, specifically in the fourth quarter.
James only scored 15 points in the first three-quarters, and the Cavs were down by as many as 20 earlier in the game. Entering the fourth quarter down 70-57, LeBron channeled his inner Thanos, exploding in the fourth quarter and showing no mercy on the Raptors.
He scored 24 of the Cavs 36 points in the fourth quarter, making eight of his ten shot attempts. He was in another dimension, as he explained the hoop looked "like an ocean" to him.
LeBron was unconscious in the fourth, and the Raptors were helpless against his hot streak. When James is zoned in and hitting shots on the perimeter, it is almost unstoppable to slow him down.
After hitting a few jumpshots, James' relentless paint penetration was the key. He was getting good looks at the rim and kicking out to shooters like Damon Jones and Larry Hughes, who went a combined 4-6 from three. LeBron also was hitting some crucial threes, including back to back three-pointers early in the fourth quarter to get himself going.
Coming back from a deficit like that at a young age should've been a signal to the Raptors that LeBron would be a recurring foe of theirs for years to come.
3. 2016 Eastern Conference Finals: Game 6
The 2016 Eastern Conference Finals was the most competitive the Raptors have played a LeBron led Cavaliers team ever in the postseason. In a series that was back and forth, LeBron and the Cavs were in position to clinch the series in game six.
However, they would need to win in Toronto against a raucous Raptors crowd. Despite the circumstances, LeBron silenced the fans early and ended Toronto's title hopes with force and authority.
James was locked in from the tip, scoring 14 points and making five of his first six shots. He wanted the Raptors to have no sense of hope that they could win this game, snatching their hearts from their chest before the first half even concluded.
A second-quarter push by James and the Cavs made it a 14-point deficit at the midway point. James had 21 in total in the first half and shot 53 percent from the field. LeBron had the mentality of taking their soul early, and he seemed to have the perfect evil plan for Toronto.
The Raptors did, however, attempt to surge back thanks to Kyle Lowry. He was on a hot streak to end the third, but they couldn't overcome the double-digit deficit. LeBron finished the game with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists, adding another dominant closeout game to his résumé.
This was the first and only time a series with LeBron went as far as six games for Toronto. In hindsight, this was their best chance at defeating James. Obviously, that didn't happen and this sparked the beginning of James' malicious playoff reign against the Raptors.
LeBron saw the Raptors staggered and wounded as he wasted no time pouncing on them and establishing his dominance early. LeBron is a cold-blood animal when it matters most, and the Raptors were his prey that night in Toronto.
2. 2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 2
This game and this performance by LeBron James went down in infamy. This was the game that Toronto was officially changed to "LeBronto" (not officially, but it could've been).
James was playing like a mad man, scoring and assisting his fellow teammates with ease. The Toronto Raptors did have a two-point lead going into the half of this game. That lead did not last for long.
In the third quarter, LeBron was absolutely sinister on the court. He shot 70-percent from the field and had a stat line of 15 points, six rebounds, and four assists in that period alone. He helped the Cavs retake the lead and never looked back, pulling away from Toronto by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
James finished the contest with 43 points on 19-28 shooting, along with 14 assist and eight boards.
Even though that night is widely remembered as "LeBronto Night", it could also be remembered as the fadeaway night. LeBron James post game has always been elite, and it has only grown as he matured and moved further along in his NBA career. In this contest, his fadeaway shot was unguardable, as he hit many difficult faders. This is a prime example of a villain using his power move in order to defeat the opposition in his way.
It didn't matter who was defending James when he did work in the low post. From Kyle Lowry to DeMar DeRozan, to OG Anunoby, and even a young Pascal Siakam, they all fell victim to Lebron's fadeaway game that night. It was one of those nights that when LeBron gets into a shooting rhythm, it is impossible to stop him.
When you tyrannize an opponent so bad that the city is named after you (and actually sounds good), you know that player is a baaaaaaad man! (Stephen A. Smith voice). When you throw in difficult faders and an explosive third quarter, it's hard to argue that this is one of LeBron's most masterful performances against the Raptors.
James' performance in game two was the beginning of the end of the Toronto Raptors' playoff run that season.
1. 2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 3
LeBron James essentially ended the DeMar DeRozan era with one shot. One incredibly difficult game-winning shot. James summed it up best with this classic postgame quote:
“Tie game, down one. I live for those moments.”
The Cavs were in control of the game for the first three-quarters, but a fourth-quarter push by the Raptors brought to a close game as time winded down. Lowry was hot and DeRozan was riding the pine after a night where he finished 3-12 from the field.
The Raptors were able to tie the game on an OG three-ball with about eight seconds left. If they could get themselves to overtime, they might have a chance at beating the Cavs and potentially getting back into the series. All they had to do was survive for eight seconds.
Unfortunately for them, they had to last eight seconds with the ball in King James' hands. James was looking to end the game on his terms. It didn't turn out very well for the Raptors.
James managed to cover the length of the court, zoom past Anunoby and hit a fall away left-handed floater off the glass. It's not known if James called bank, but he definitely called game. That shot wasn't an easy shot to make and the recovery defense by OG was admirable.
This is a prime example of LeBron doing LeBron things, crushing the hopes and hearts of the Raptors and their fans in the process. Seeing the shoulder drops and the defeated posture of the Raptors players as they left the court said it all.
LeBron jumping onto the scorer's table and embracing the fans threw salt on a wound that was rather fresh for Toronto. This called for another phrase change signifying LeBron's chokehold on the Raptors, as many changed the 'We the North" chant the Raptors claim to "He the North", symbolizing how the King has ruled over Toronto time and time again.
King James had another phenomenal game, scoring 38 points on over 50 percent shooting, six rebounds, and seven assists. He once again put the Cavs on his back and carried them to a win, despite the Raptors' commendable comeback.
That game ended the series, along with Dwane Casey's and DeRozan's careers as Raptors, even though it was only game three. It was evident that it something about the kid from Akron, Ohio that either put fear or instilled a sense of inferiority in the Raptors. Whatever it may be, it still was a legendary shot from LeBron and a painful memory in Toronto's history.
LeBron James has terrorized the Toronto Raptors ever since he entered the NBA. He has given them heartbreak, pain, defeat, even embarrassment at times. Raptors fans respect LeBron, but they sure do see him as a player who has prevented them from achieving success over and over.
They saw what happened when he finally departed from the Eastern Conference, winning a championship the first year he was gone.
It is safe to say that LeBron James has solidified himself as one of the Raptors greatest foes. He is their kryptonite, their weakness, that evil villain who seems to constantly have the upper hand.
Luckily for Toronto, they only have to see him twice a year at the minimum, unless they see him in the NBA Finals. If that was to happen, James probably wouldn't mind haunting the country of Canada again with his basketball prowess. Hopefully, for the Raptors sake, they can find a different Finals opponent.