On a day when the Raptors felt LeBron James really was Michael Jordan, the Cleveland Cavaliers' sensational sophomore was not a winner.
Despite a record-breaking 56 points, James' depth-challenged team could not beat the not-so-hot Raptors. Toronto (28-38) led most of the game and took charge in crunch time for a 105-98 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre yesterday.
"Was that LeBron or was that Michael?" Raptors point guard Rafer Alston said. "I thought that was Michael."
Jalen Rose, who led the Raptors with 30 points, agreed.
"A couple of those one-legged jumpers reminded me of another No. 23 I played against once or twice," he said.
At 20 years and 80 days, James, who played all 48 minutes, became the youngest player in NBA history to score 50 points. It also was a Cavs franchise record, James' career high and the most points yielded by the Raptors in their 10-year history.
But for some reason, the Raptors aren't that bad when a player goes off for a big game. The previous high -- 51 points by the Philadelphia 76ers' Allen Iverson on Jan. 21, 2001 -- came in a 110-106 Toronto win.
"It's a great achievement but I'd rather get it with a win," said James, whose team fell to 34-30 with its third loss in a row. "If I can get 56 with a win, I'd take it any day."
James went 18-of-36 from the field, including 6-of-12 from beyond the three-point arc, nailed several off-balance jumpers with the shot clock expiring and flew by rookie Pape Sow for a memorable power jam in the fourth quarter.
But, in the end, James was a frustrated young man. He felt he was fouled on a play late in the game when he fell while trying to distribute the ball, resulting in an Alston steal that led to game-clinching free throws. James argued with a couple of refs for several minutes after the play.
"One thing (people) used to tell me is how you beat the Bulls is you let Michael score his points and you've got to stop everybody else," said Donyell Marshall, whose two huge offensive rebounds and ensuing layups put the Raptors up 97-90 late in the fourth. "I think that's what we did (yesterday)."
Considering James outscored his 11 teammates 56-42 (with Drew Gooden chipping in 24), it's fair to say the Raptors did a pretty good job against the rest of the Cavs. The Raptors bench, led by Marshall's 24 points, outscored the Cavs reserves 34-1, the lowest total for a Raptors opponent in team history.
Meanwhile, Cavs all-star centre Zydrunas Ilgauskas was held to 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Raptors centre Loren Woods, who started in place of flu-ridden rookie project Rafael Araujo, did a nice job on Ilgauskas in 20 minutes.
"If Ilgauskas would have had a big game along with Gooden and LeBron, we couldn't have won the game," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said.
Yes, it was a big win for the Raptors. But chances are they never will forget what James accomplished.
"I told him during the game he's going to have to get drug tested," Mitchell said. "You've got to go pee in the bottle. He had to have been on something the way he shot the ball."