TORONTO â€” DeMar DeRozan made good on his promise to bounce back with a big game.
But on a night that Kyle Lowry spent on the bench nursing a sprained ankle, DeRozan’s best wasn’t good enough. And now the Toronto Raptors are one loss away from elimination.
Two nights after a five-point performance, DeRozan poured in a career playoff high 37 points, but the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the Toronto Raptors 115-94, and take a 3-0 lead into Sunday’s Game 4 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
Moments after the loss, a downcast DeRozan addressed the frustration of a post-season gone wrong.
“No it hasn’t worked out the way we wanted it to,” DeRozan said. “We had different expectations, each and every game, each and every game’s been different.
“Tonight we competed extremely well. But it sucks when you get down late in the game. Nothing could fall for us, especially in that fourth quarter, start of the fourth quarter. Especially playing without Kyle.”
Jonas Valanciunas added 19 points for the Raptors, while Norman Powell chipped in with 13 and Serge Ibaka had 12.
The loss of Lowry was a huge blow to Toronto. The feisty point guard sprained his left ankle on Wednesday, joined his teammates for Friday’s warmup, but was limping noticeably, and spent the night on the bench.
DeRozan didn’t know he’d be missing his backcourt mate until right before team introductions.
“It was tough. It changes your mindset. Not just me, the whole team as well,” he said.
“He was going to try it, it was bothering him, he just couldn’t go,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He wanted to. The medical people said he shouldnâ€™t try to go. He was in so much pain he just couldn’t go.”
The Raptors were relieved to be back at Air Canada Centre after being routed by a combined 33 points in Games 1 and 2 in Cleveland, buoyed by the fact they were in the same position last season â€” losing two in Cleveland, then bouncing back to win two.
The Raptors fought hard through three quarters, and led by as many as five points, despite shooting a woeful 2 of 18 from three-point range. They’d missed their first 12 three-point attempts before Powell finally ended the long-range drought with 3:09 to play in the third quarter. Kyle Korver drilled back-to-back three-pointers to send Cleveland into the fourth quarter with a 79-77 lead.
DeRozan truly proved his worth when he was on the bench to start the fourth. In less than two minutes, a two-point deficit swelled to eight points.
Did he need the breather?
“I could’ve kept going,” DeRozan said. “I didn’t feel like I needed a blow. At this point in time, there’s no need for rest.”
The Raptors went ice cold in the fourth, and Delon Wright’s basket less than a minute into the quarter was Toronto’s only field goal for a dreadful six-minute stretch. And when Brampton, Ont., native Tristan Thompson scored with 5:47 to play, it gave the Cavs a 99-80 lead, much to the dismay of the noisy, white-clad crowd that included Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip and rapper Drake. The two Canadian musicians met on the court at halftime for a warm embrace.
A basket by Valanciunas ended a 17-1 Cavs run with 5:20 to play, but the game had got away from Toronto by that point.
Facing the end of their season, Casey said Sunday’s game is about “pride.”
“You don’t want to get swept,” he said. “Especially in your home building and I think our guys will come out and compete. It’s about the fight, the scratch, the want to, to grind it out. The mentality is, you’re down 0-3. If things get hard on Sunday do you keep fighting, keep scrapping, keep scratching. . . we have a lot of pride in our locker room.”
The Cavs shot 51 per cent and were 13 of 23 from three-point range. Cleveland also clobbered Toronto 49-25 on the boards.
DeRozan shot 12 for 23 and made all 13 free-throw attempts, and afterward James complimented the Raptor, who has made a habit of rebounding from bad games â€” he averages 32.7 the game after a sub 10-point performance.
“DeRozan was amazing, he gave everything that he had,” James said. “That’s what great players do, they bounce back. . . He was in such a great groove, and for a scorer in our league we tried to make it tough on him the whole way, and see if we could weather the storm, and we did that in the fourth quarter.”
James, who’s been piling up highlight-reel plays in this series, was up to his antics again. In the fourth quarter, he spun around Fred VanVleet then nonchalantly tossed up a left-handed floater.
JR Smith scored the Cavs’ only three-pointer of the first quarter to put Cleveland up by six points. A DeRozan layup evened up the score, but the Cavs ended the quarter on a mini 10-6 run to take a 28-24 lead into the second quarter.
The Cavs stretched their advantage to nine points, but the Raptors fought back and a finger roll from Ibaka tied the game three-and-a-half minutes before halftime. A running layup by P.J. Tucker capped Toronto’s 22-9 run and gave the Raptors a four-point lead. They headed into the locker-room at the break up 52-49.
Cleveland rolled over Toronto 116-105 in Game 1 and 125-103 in Game 2 at Quicken Loans Arena. Game 5, if necessary, would be Tuesday in Cleveland.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press