INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers open their Eastern Conference semifinals against the Toronto Raptors at home on Monday, but LeBron James would be just as comfortable — if not more — playing Game 1 north of the border.
“I just like the adversity of the road,” James said after practice Friday. “Home cooking is great; love the home fans for 14 years. But I love playing out on the road more than I love playing at home. It’s just a weird thing. I love the adversity, I love the ‘Tonight is not the night’ LeBron slogans. I love the ‘You’re overrated’ and all those things. I like all that. I don’t know, man. It’s the bunker mentality of knowing it’s 15 guys plus the coaching staff and whoever there that’s traveled with us against the whole state and the whole city.”
The Cavs held their first practice since learning of their second-round opponent after sweeping the Indiana Pacers last weekend. The players watched the Raptors’ Game 6 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at a steakhouse Thursday night — Cavs general manager David Griffin picked up the tab — while Cavs coach Tyronn Lue hosted close to 100 team employees at his house for a viewing party complete with catering and valet car service.
“I just like the adversity of the road. Home cooking is great, love the home fans for 14 years. But I love playing out on the road more than I love playing at home. It’s just a weird thing. I love the adversity, I love the ‘Tonight is not the night’ LeBron slogans. I love the ‘You’re overrated’ and all those things. I like all that. I don’t know, man. It’s the bunker mentality of knowing it’s 15 guys plus the coaching staff and whoever there that’s traveled with us against the whole state and the whole city.”
James will look to extend his personal NBA record of 27 series with winning a road game when the series shifts to Toronto for Game 3. His teams have won a road game in 35 of the 38 playoff series he’s played in his career.
Based on that track record, does James view every series he plays in as his team holding an automatic 1-0 lead considering that guaranteed road win that’s coming?
“No built-in advantage,” James said. “Doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to win a road game in this series. Just play the game. For me, I just go out and try to win every game and do whatever it takes to help our team be successful. [We are] going to a hostile building in Game 3 and Game 4 [at the Air Canada Centre], and we know that. Their fans are unbelievable. I stated that last year after we closed that series out. Doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to win this year. We’ve got to go out and make it happen. We have to worry about Game 1 first.”
Some of James’ greatest playoff feats have come on the road: from Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals in Detroit, when he scored 48 points, including 29 of the Cavs’ final 30, in an overtime win; to Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals in Boston, when he dropped 45 points and 15 rebounds in a game with win-or-go-home consequences; to Game 7 of the 2016 Finals in Golden State, when he put up a triple-double to upset the 73-win Warriors; to Game 3 against the Pacers this postseason, when he led the Cavs back from a 25-point halftime deficit with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists for the win.
He enjoys playoff road games so much that he will even peek around the lower bowl of the arena to see the hate signs that opposing fans work up to jeer him with.
“Sometimes,” James said. “Sometimes I’m able to see a few of them. Some of them are actually pretty good, and some of them are like I’ve seen them before, seen it since high school, actually. Some of them are pretty good. They take a lot of time out of their day to try to figure out how to get my attention away from the game. But I’m able to look at all the signs in the crowd and still maintain my focus on the court, too, so it doesn’t do much.”
Lue was delighted to hear James’ perspective on road games.
“That’s good to know because we play well at home,” Lue said, referencing Cleveland’s 18-4 postseason record at Quicken Loans Arena since 2015. “Our fans are great; they have our support. LeBron saying he does play better on the road, that makes it a lot better for us.”