DeMar DeRozan did it all on Tuesday night in Cleveland, scoring a game-high 33 points to go with six assists and the key steal to help seal Toronto’s 99-93 fourth quarter comeback road win.
DeRozan scored 16 fourth quarter points but it was his defense that won the game. With 35 seconds left and the Cavaliers trailing 94-91, Spencer Hawes rifled a pass to a seemingly open Tyler Zeller cutting to the front of the rim for what looked like an easy two points. But DeRozan, standing in the corner across from Luol Deng, anticipated the pass, rotated from the weakside and knocked the ball into the hands of teammate Kyle Lowry as Zeller tumbled to the floor. DeRozan and Lowry salted the game away with five free throws, putting the Raptors seven games above .500 for the first time in six years and comfortably in third place in the Eastern Conference.
The possession before DeRozan’s deflection, Lowry stepped in front of a charging Kyrie Irving and drew the offensive foul. The Cavaliers committed just 12 turnovers, however, six came in the fourth quarter as they watched the win slip through their hands.
Irving led the Cavaliers with 25 points and nine assists, but scored just four points in the fourth quarter as the Raptors took control. He did show-off a dazzling array of moves before finishing for a layup to give the Cavs a 77-73 lead, their largest of the fourth quarter, with 9:15 to play.
But DeRozan sunk three midrange jumpers and Terrance Ross swished two treys down the stretch to put Toronto in position for the win. Ross finished with 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from distance to help the Raptors defeat the Cavs for the second time in four days, having won 98-91 on Friday in Toronto.
Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown inserted the recently acquired Spencer Hawes into the starting lineup and brought Tyler Zeller, who had started the previous six games and played well in place of the injured Anderson Varejao, off the bench. Hawes had 10 first half points and finished with 15 points and seven boards. But he was helpless as the Raptors opened up a 14-point lead using a 20-3 run which spanned the final three minutes of the first quarter and the opening three-plus minutes of the second period. The spurt was buoyed by a five-point possession when Greivis Vasquez sank a three-pointer while Hawes was whistled for a foul and technical, giving Toronto two free throws for a 34-20 lead. Vasquez scored 15 points off the bench and went 3-of-6 from three-point range.
Cleveland responded led by undrafted rookie Matthew Dellavedova, who provided a spark off the bench with excellent pressure defense on Vasquez and Lowry. The rookie’s energy early in the second quarter helped stem the tide and the rest of the team followed the Aussie’s lead. Cleveland used a 7-0 run to cut the halftime deficit to 47-41 despite shooting just 35 percent in the opening half. They forced nine Toronto turnovers, leading to eight points, but were hurt by 10 second chance points from the Raptors, who out-hustled them for extra possessions.
The Cavs continued the momentum after the break, scoring the first seven points of the third quarter to open a brief 48-47 lead.
The game remained tight for the entire second half with neither team opening up more than a five-point lead until the final seconds of the game.
Surprisingly, Brown played Hawes and Zeller together along with Irving, Dellavedova and Deng from the 8:22 mark of the fourth until the final seven seconds. Dellavedova, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 28 minutes, converted three floaters and two free throws to help keep the Cavs ahead. But Ross’ right wing three-pointer off a double screen gave the Raptors a 90-89 lead with 3 minutes to play, a lead they would not relinquish. DeRozan’s baseline layup on the next possession gave his team a three-point edge. Zeller and DeRozan traded two free throws, setting the stage for the Raptors’ game sealing defensive plays.
The loss drops the Cavs to 22-36, five games behind Atlanta for the eighth seed in the dreadful Eastern Conference playoff ‘race.’ Cleveland has a difficult task as they travel to face a well-rested Oklahoma City squad on Wednesday evening. The Thunder are steaming after having dropped two straight at home to Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavs will have to dig deep into the tank and come to play if they want to have any chance of pulling the upset and halting their three-game losing skid.