DeMar DeRozan struggled to score in one of the biggest nights of the Toronto Raptors’ season, so fellow all-star Kyle Lowry put on a heroic show.
Lowry drained a career-high 43 points to orchestrate a 99-97 come-from-behind win over the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night, overcoming a 25-point night by LeBron James in one of the most dramatic contests of the year at Air Canada Centre.
It was a premier matchup – Cleveland, first place in the rising Eastern Conference, taking on second-place Toronto, with their season series tied 1-1. The game was to feature the two top scoring players in the East – both all-stars – King James against DeRozan.
DeRozan would go into it calling the game “a measuring stick to see how far we’ve come.” James went in trumpeting DeRozan and his backcourt mate Lowry as “a two-headed monster.”
James is the NBA’s most famous face, its sneaker king, a prolific super-athlete who speaks loudly and candidly. He swept into Toronto with a boom, packing the visiting locker room with reporters. He said he doesn’t care what seed the Cavs take into the playoffs.
“The No. 1 seed shows who we are as a team, but for me, personally, put me in one of the top 8 seeds in the playoffs and I believe I can win a playoff series,” James said.
The Cavs jumped out to a fast 7-0 lead as the Raptors missed their first seven shots and called for a timeout. The Raptors settled in and Lowry dumped in nine fast points. The game was soon tied 15-15.
James Johnson – who was defending King James – and DeRozan both landed in early foul trouble. Luis Scola, who has struggled mightily of late, missed all four of his shots. Even the all-star DeRozan – playing in his 500th game as a Raptor – was clunking shots. Toronto had six fouls in the first quarter and shot 38 per cent from the field, while Cleveland drilled 57 per cent of its shots. By the time the quarter closed, the Raps trailed by 10 and looked gravely over-matched.
Toronto showed renewed energy in the second quarter. With James briefly on Cleveland’s bench, Toronto’s bench entered and brought urgency. A 10-point quarter from Bismack Biyombo and some timely assists from Cory Joseph helped the Raps toward their first lead of the night as they held the Cavs to just 18 in the quarter. It was a tight 49-45 game at half-time, Cleveland on top.
The Cavs surged in the third, leading by as much as 14. DeRozan still couldn’t score – allegedly he was sick. It got physical, tempers flared, Jonas Valanciunas suffered a chest injury and left briefly. Cleveland took a 77-68 lead into the fourth.
DeRozan finally hit his first bucket of the night late in the fourth, but big shots from Lowry and Terrence Ross led the way. The two teams went basket for basket down the stretch in a foreshadowing of what the Eastern Conference final could be like in Toronto’s greatest dream.
Lowry went into a zone – exploding for a 13-point fourth quarter, punctuated by the winning 23-footer.
“He’s a crafty player, he changes speeds quite a bit, puts a lot of pressure on your bigs and he never stops moving,” Cleveland’s Kevin Love said, who had 20 points and nine rebounds. “Tonight, especially with that crowd so into it, he sparked their entire team.”
James was way off on a last-ditch attempt at a winning three. He calmly tore up the stats sheet afterward in the locker room while sitting with both feet in a bucket of ice.
DeRozan would finish with six on 1-of-11 shooting, while Ross had 15 and Biyombo and Valanciunas added 11 each.
“I knew DeMar was sick, and that’s my guy, so if you can’t go, I’m going to hold it down,” Lowry said. “It wasn’t just me stepping up – it was Cory, Biz, Pat, JV – it was everybody…a win is a win, no matter how it came.”
That’s 10 straight home victories for the Raptors – a new franchise record. They’ve also now won 18 of their past 21 – another club first. Toronto improves to 39-18 on the season and 21-6 at home, sitting two games behind the 41-16 Cavs. The Raps are now 31-3 when holding a team under 100 points.
“Every timeout, I was telling them, stay in it, stay in it, stay committed, stay focused, keep grinding,” said Raptor coach Dwane Casey said. “This was a grind-it-out game with all the stuff that was going on, the sickness and the foul trouble and all that stuff. Our guys stuck with it, it wasn’t pretty … there are going to be nights like that and it’s why this team is growing into that kind of team.”
The Raptors have 25 games left on the schedule. Next up is a quick road trip to face the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, before they return home to begin a seven-game homestand on Wednesday.Report Typo/Error