TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors didn’t have All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. Nor did they have starters Danny Green and Serge Ibaka.
Those absences opened the door for the Cleveland Cavaliers to cap a tough three-games-in-four-nights stretch with a win on Friday night.
Only the Cavs couldn’t break through, dropping their third straight game to their old Eastern Conference rival 126-110. It’s the first time since the 2015-16 season the Raptors have won the regular season series against Cleveland.
The game had the feel of the road trip opener in Indiana, as the Cavs kept fighting and the opponent struggled to put them away.
On Tuesday, Cleveland hung around long enough for the Pacers to make a few mistakes, long enough for Larry Nance Jr. to rip the game away with a joyful put-back game-winner.
This time, Cleveland didn’t get that chance, stumbling all over themselves during a sloppy, heavy-legged fourth quarter in which they were outscored 27-17.
“It’s tough because I think we played really good basketball,” Cedi Osman said after the game. “We really fought during the 48-minute game. In the third quarter, we wee playing really good and I think in the fourth quarter we really just gave up offensive rebounds and then they made some open 3s and I think that broke our mentality during the game and broke our toughness.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Kawhi Leonard and Fred VanVleet pushed the lead back into double figures around the four-minute mark, finally putting the Cavs away.
The Cavs had plenty of chances, fighting back from multiple double-digit deficits in the second half and pulling to within five with 5:25 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Without three starters, the Raptors still had Leonard and OG Anunoby. That pair, along with a trio of alums from the G League Raptors 905 squad — VanVleet, Delon Wright and Pascal Siakam — were too much. It was a wire-to-wire win.
“We had a hard time defending,” Cavs head coach Larry Drew said. “They’re big, they’re athletic and they’re strong. They’re a good team. I can’t take anything away from them. They’ve got the best record in the league. I thought our guys put up a good fight for three and a half quarters, I thought really did some good things. But we just couldn’t overcome it.”
Leonard led the way, tallying 37 points and hitting timely buckets to thwart repeated Cleveland comeback tries. Anunoby poured in a season-high 21 points, including 15 in the first quarter to help the Raptors set the tone and force Cleveland to play from behind all night. Siakam finished with another double-double, scoring 15 points to go with 10 rebounds.
Jordan Clarkson once again paced the Cavs with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting to go with four assists and four rebounds.
Rookie Collin Sexton tallied 17 points on 6-of-16 from the field before fouling out with 45.1 seconds left. It’s Sexton’s highest scoring tally since Dec. 12 — a stretch that covers six games.
Nance, making his third consecutive start at center, finished with another double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
He also shook off a nasty collision with Siakam in the second half that led to Nance losing a piece of his tooth and feeling sore after the game.
“I guess my chin fouled him,” Nance quipped.
It was once again the kind of fight — and Nance has the battle wounds to prove it — that can’t be questioned during this rebuild. But as the Cavs have learned in the first few months, that’s not always enough, especially against the East’s best, the squad that currently occupies Cleveland’s old throne.
Cedi Osman sets new mark
Osman tallied double figures in scoring once again Friday night, going for 12 points in 22 minutes. That gives him four straight games with at least 10 points.
For Osman, that’s the longest streak of his young career.
The second-year player spoke recently about the challenge of the extra attention from opposing teams. He went through a stretch of three games starting on Dec. 10 where he averaged 6.3 points on 6-of-26 (23 percent) from the field. In his sophomore season, there will continue to be growing pains. But seeing Osman respond after a rough stretch is a promising sign in his development.
Injury scare avoided
David Nwaba, who entered the night with an achy knee that has limited his minutes recently, went down awkwardly late in the second quarter. Nwaba committed a foul to get off the floor and went to the back.
However, he walked out of the locker room without a limp following halftime and told a team member he was fine, that it was his other knee. Nwaba started the second half guarding Raptors All-Star Leonard. Nwaba finished with six points in 14 minutes. But he at least seemed to avoid another injury that the Cavs can ill afford at this point with two starters (Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson) already out.
The Cavs return home for a matchup with the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.