Two of the star attractions - Chris Bosh and Shaquille O'Neal - may have been missing, but the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers still put on an intense night of entertainment.
The Raptors rode their two big men, Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu, plus guard Jarrett Jack, as far as they could but faded in overtime as LeBron James and the Cavaliers (46-14) poured in three-pointers to take a 126-118 win.
The closest the Raptors (31-26) came to knocking off the NBA's best team was as time ran out in the fourth quarter, when Turkoglu lobbed up an air ball from three-point range rather than move a step or two closer.
In overtime, the Cavaliers quickly took control with three consecutive three-pointers, the first two from Mo Williams, who finished with 22 points. James, who received a physical going-over, was the game's top scorer with 36 points, while teammate Antawn Jamison had 22.
"We pay attention to LeBron and try to show him bodies and then they swing it and find threes," Raptors head coach Jay Triano said of the overtime. "That is kind of their game right now.
"If [James]is not taking it all the way to the basket and you don't put a guy in there, he is going to lay it up. If you do, then he is going to swing it and find guys for open looks. They did it three times in a row to start the overtime period, and that put us in a hole."
Bargnani and Jack led the Raptors with 24 points each, while Turkoglu had 18.
"I was going to come in," Turkoglu said when asked about his pivotal shot. But he did not have a ready explanation for his decision to lob one up from long distance, other than he made one earlier in the game on the same play.
"I felt good about the one I made before," he said. "I can't really say much about it. I was going to come hard. Maybe, I should have gone earlier. But I couldn't find anybody [for a pass]and time was running out. I was a little bit upset about it."
Triano gave the impression he was satisfied with Turkoglu's decision.
"I guess [Turkoglu]didn't feel like he could get all the way to the basket, so he settled for the jump shot, which he is equally efficient shooting as he is taking it to the basket," the coach said.
There were a lot fewer empty seats last night at the Air Canada Centre than there were last Wednesday, when the Raptors game clashed with the Canada-Russia quarter-final at the Olympics men's hockey tournament. Thanks to a late start to the Canada-Slovakia semi-final last night, the capacity of 20,107 could look forward to catching it after the Raptors-Cavaliers clash.
Bosh missed his fourth game for the Raptors with a sprained ankle. O'Neal did not play for the Cavs because of a sprained right thumb.
But neither the absence of O'Neal nor the fact they were playing the second of back-to-back road games slowed down the Cavaliers at the start of the game. They used the versatility of James, who started passing when the Raptors tried to close his lane to the basket, and the shooting of Jamison to open a quick lead. James finished the half with 20 points.
The Raptors, with Triano madly working his bench, fought back and by halftime pulled even with the Cavaliers - 60-60 - in 24 minutes of wildly entertaining basketball.
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said James played the game with a sore leg, which was tested several times on hard fouls by the Raptors.
Brown said it "was terrific to see [James]gut it out for us and he made some big plays down the stretch. All our guys stepped up and contributed in some way, shape or form. We just found a way to win and, sometimes, you have to do that in the NBA - so we'll take this one."
Neither team was particularly concerned about defence, which is why there was so much entertainment, but both were pretty sharp offensively. The Raptors shot 61.1 per cent from the floor in the first quarter, but found themselves down 33-30 as the Cavs hit 72.2 per cent.
But thanks to the work of Bargnani, Jack and forward Reggie Evans, the Raptors stayed with the best team in the NBA. Bargnani finished 9-for-17 from the floor, including two three-pointers. Evans had 13 points and led the team in rebounds with five, along with rookie guard DeMar DeRozan.
"[Evans]was good," Triano said. "He went in and battled. As long as he is nice and close to the basket like that he does a great job of fighting and getting extra possession for us.
"His energy was infectious."Report Typo/Error