CLEVELAND, Ohio – As a physical first half wrapped up Sunday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors had to be separated.
Two teams whose playoff hopes fade, desperate to change seasons, battling the frustration that creeps in with every loss. Tensions were high inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse – and it spilled over onto the court, directly in front of the Toronto bench.
The Raptors, displaced from Toronto this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were rolling on a losing seven-game skid. The Cavs had lost five of six. Something had to give. Cleveland channeled those emotions and added to Toronto’s misery season, beating the Raptors 116-105.
That end-of-quarter dusting resulted in a double technical fault against Collin Sexton and Norman Powell, the two players who were battling in that final and started chewing shortly after Sexton and Fred VanVleet briefly exchanged words. Teammates, coaches and referees eventually broke up and sent the two teams to the locker room so they could calm down.
Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff spoke to the team at halftime. He told them the proud Raptors would come out swinging. He issued a challenge, demanding that his guys be ready.
This time the Cavs struck first, scoring the first 12 points of the third quarter. Seven was from Sexton, who was clearly angry with that first half feud and cheering enthusiastically after every bucket. Sexton scored 14 points in the third quarter, helping the Cavs reverse their fortunes with a 32-18 advantage in those decisive 12 minutes.
Don’t sting the bear. Or, in this case, the Bull.
Sexton lived up to his unstoppable moniker by scoring a high of 36 points, including 23 in the second half. At 5:23 from the end, Sexton kept a left 3 point that pushed the lead to 11 at this point. Sexton put three fingers on his forehead and greeted the Toronto bench. Message sent.
“Collin took on that challenge and he took us to the third quarter,” Bickerstaff said after the win. “When you have these incidents, you have to be prepared to back them up. You play against guys who have championship DNA. I found it impressive, the way we reacted in the third quarter. You can’t expect a guy to do this on his own, we’re a team. I thought all these guys gathered around him and then he led the way.
Sexton’s big night helped the Cavs get through 27 turnovers that left the Raptors hanging out late, even reducing the lead to five with less than a minute left.
“I thought we were in a rush from their pressure,” Bickerstaff said. “I give them a ton of credit. Their players are great competitors, their coach is a very good coach, obviously their team is well trained and they were physical, they were aggressive, they were maneuverable and they accelerated us. We have to learn to beat the pressure with patience and to be stronger, safer with the ball and just to make the game easier more often.
Jarrett Allen made a few key buckets – and made his way to the free throw line – down the straight as well, finishing with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Dean Wade had 16 points off the bench. Darius Garland added 15 points and six assists. Larry Nance Jr., starting again in place of injured Kevin Love, also hit double the numbers, scoring 10 points to go with seven tables and two assists.
The Raptors were led by VanVleet, who had 23 points. Powell scored with 18. OG Anunoby scored 17, including 12 in the fourth quarter as Toronto tried to rally.
After the game, Sexton said the Raptors woke him up. Big mistake. He had the last word.
JaVale McGee returns
McGee missed Friday’s loss to San Antonio with illness. The save center was able to practice the next day and was cleared to return to the game. In 14 minutes, McGee scored six points to go with seven rebounds.
Observation d’André Drummond
Sitting since mid-February as the Cleveland front office tries to find a trade before the March 25 deadline, Drummond has watched the second half on the bench next to his teammates and coaches. Drummond, a two-time NBA All-Star who has been at the center of league-wide business talks, remained engaged during the timeouts, offering advice and encouragement.
The Cavs will complete their four home games Monday night against the Sacramento Kings. The peak is at 7:30 p.m.