By RACHEL BRADY
Friday, January 12, 2018
TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors slapped a discombobulated Cavaliers team with one of its most lopsided losses in the second LeBron James era in Cleveland. And they did so without Kyle Lowry or Serge Ibaka.
Six different Raptors scored in double digits, led by Fred VanVleet's 22 points and a 15-point, 18-rebound night from Jonas Valanciunas, as the Raptors crushed the Cavaliers 133-99, the worst loss of their season.
James had 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting and left the game before the fourth quarter even began. Raptors fans expecting to be awed by a championship-calibre Cavs squad that had added Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade this season got no such show.
The TNT crew was there, along with a larger-than-usual throng of media - from both sides of the border. They busied the event-level hallways of Air Canada Centre, encircling James and asking various Raptors to describe their level of amazement over his ability to still be so ridiculously dominant after 15 years in the league.
Numerous Raptors refused to call this home stand a "measuring stick" against the Cavs and Golden State Warriors - combatants in the last three NBA finals.
It was the first meeting between the two since the Cavaliers easily swept the Raptors out of the Eastern Conference semi-finals last May. Toronto came into the night with a 1-7 record in its last eight games against Cleveland.
"You never forget that feeling," said DeMar DeRozan before the game, reflecting back on that sombre playoff series. "Even if you've got to carry over that feeling of Game 4, getting swept, to give you an edge to go out there and play even harder tonight, then you use it - whatever it takes."
The Raptors were without Lowry for a second straight game, still out with a back injury, while Ibaka was serving his one-game suspension for trading punches with James Johnson during Tuesday's loss to the Miami Heat. In their places, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles were injected into the starting lineup.
There were early signs that this could be Toronto's night.
There was Toronto's fast 10-4 run. There was the quick and lanky young Wright perplexing the undersized Thomas, and two fast threes for Miles. Valanciunas had a roll-to-the-rack bucket that left Kevin Love stuck in his tracks, and the Lithuanian big man had a double-double before halftime.
Young Raptors were having their moments. Jakob Poeltl had three explosive blocks and was dominating on the boards. Pascal Siakam scored three straight buckets in the paint surrounded by Cavs big men who seemed hardly to be trying. VanVleet led his team with 13 points by the half, while the Raptors went into the locker room with a rather preposterous 65-40 lead. The Cavs had attempted just seven three-pointers all half - and missed every one.
It was starting to look like the same kind of lopsided score-line from their lacklustre 2017 playoff series - only this time the opposite team was dominating.
The second half was more of the same - the Raptors ruling every statistical category.
The 26-14 Cavaliers were coming off a 127-99 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, their largest margin of defeat this season. Mediocre on the road this season, the Cavs had dropped two of their first three games on this five-game road trip and sat in third place, below Toronto and the first-place Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland has shown little concern for playoff seeding in recent years, but turned up the heat in the postseason.
"At the end of the day the seeds will take care of themselves. I just want us playing ball the right way," said James. "For seeding, I could start a playoff series on the road, personally, and feel just as confident as if I was starting at home."
The lead, remarkably, kept swelling. Toronto hit 100 points before the fourth quarter. In the end, the Raptors shot 50 per cent and out-rebounded the Cavs by an astounding 63-35.
Next up for the Raptors is a visit from the NBA champion Warriors on Saturday.
Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright goes up for a basket past Cleveland Cavaliers guards Dwyane Wade and Isaiah Thomas during their game in Toronto Thursday.
FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS