As Antawn Jamison spent the early part of the fourth quarter torching the Raptors, the guy who normally would have guarded him sat perfectly still at the end of the Toronto bench.
With James Johnson held out of the Raptors lineup for a second straight game, Jamison erupted for 15 of his team-high 25 points in a 5:35 span of the final quarter as the Cleveland Cavaliers stormed back to defeat Toronto 84-80 Friday night.
The Raptors' latest late collapse was only part of the story afterward. Much of the focus was on the absence of Johnson, who has gone from being a fixture as the club's starting small forward to being the NBA equivalent of a healthy scratch in two straight games.
Head coach Dwane Casey confirmed that Johnson was okay to play — he just didn't.
“He'll be available to play (Sunday in Oklahoma City), he was available to play tonight,” said Casey, who wouldn't identify why Johnson didn't see action. “We chose as a staff not to play him. We're going build the program the right way, we're going to do things the right way, and we'll go from there.”
When asked why Johnson wasn't used at all in a fourth quarter in which Cleveland outscored the Raptors 33-17, Casey bristled.
“To do what?” he asked. “James is not in the doghouse, I just thought (Linas Kleiza) and Alan (Anderson) did a good job at the (position). It wasn't any one person, it was a group thing moreso than anything else.”
Johnson had little to say after the game.
“I just work here,” he said. “I'm happy to work here. The guys are playing well and I'm going to cheer for them.
“I don't really need (an explanation). It's an internal matter between coach and me, and I'm going to deal with it.”
Being without Johnson was far from the only problem the Raptors faced Friday night as they saw their three-game winning streak come to an end. Toronto was without point guards Jose Calderon (swollen right eye) and Jerryd Bayless (torn left oblique) and forward Gary Forbes (sore left knee), leaving them to rely on a patchwork roster featuring three NBA Development League callups.
Anderson and point guard Ben Uzoh were inserted into the starting lineup after signing their second 10-day contracts prior to the game, while fellow D-League guard Justin Dentmon made his Raptors debut in a reserve role. Uzoh had six points and six rebounds, Dentmon scored three points and Anderson missed all four of his shot attempts.
Casey said the process of implementing three new players into the team's existing systems — and two point guards in particular — has been a challenge for the club.
“Bless Ben's heart, DeMar's come up wide open and he's already going into his attack mode,” Casey said. “Those timing issues, we've got to get down pat, and getting Ben and Justin accustomed to playing with our guys.”
Andrea Bargnani, who scored 19 points but made just two of his final 16 shots, said that was no excuse for the team's latest fourth-quarter meltdown.
“We were playing good, so there was no excuse to play a fourth quarter like this,” Bargnani said. “Of course it's difficult for them to learn the plays, but ...
“We missed the coverage on Jamison, like, 10 times in a row and that was the game right there.”
After Toronto limited Cleveland to just 11 third-quarter points for a 63-51 advantage, back-to-back threes from Jamison sliced the deficit to five with 9:10 remaining. He connected on another long-range shot just over two minutes later to tie the score at 66.
Lester Hudson — another D-League addition who finished with a career-high 23 points — knocked down an acrobatic layup with 4:09 left to put Cleveland in front by three, and Samardo Samuels' long jumper on the next possession capped a 23-5 run that sapped the energy from the Air Canada Centre crowd of 16,565.
Two DeRozan free throws cut the deficit to three, but an Alonzo Gee driving layup made it 76-71 and the Raptors wouldn't get any closer.
DeRozan led the Raptors with 28 points.
Cleveland rookie forward and Brampton, Ont., native Tristan Thompson finished with six points and four rebounds in 24 minutes.
Notes: Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott was given a double technical and subsequently ejected with 53.1 seconds remaining in the first half for arguing with officials. Assistant coach Paul Pressey took over in his absence. ... Thompson told reporters he had to secure more than 30 tickets for family and friends. The 21-year-old, drafted fourth overall by Cleveland in 2011, came into Friday averaging 12.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in his last 10 games. ... Casey said that he expects Calderon, who took an elbow to the eye in Wednesday's win over Philadelphia, will return to the lineup Sunday. ... Dentmon, an undrafted 26-year-old, averaged 22.8 points and 5.5 assists in 40 games with the Austin Toros. ... Toronto's next seven games are against opponents with winning records.
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