TORONTO (AP) — Kyle Lowry had a big smile after capping off a career night by hitting the clinching basket in the closing seconds.
Lowry finished with a career-best 43 points to help the Toronto Raptors beat the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 Friday night.
“My first game winner in my illustrious 10-year career,” he said, noting that he was at Villanova that last time he’d done that.
Terrence Ross added 15 for Toronto, which won its 10th straight at home to tie a franchise record previously set between March 24 and Nov. 4, 2002.
LeBron James, who scored 25, had a chance to win the game with a late 3-pointer, but his shot missed the rim completely as time expired.
Kevin Love added 20 for the Cavaliers, who had their lead over Atlantic Division-leading Toronto in the East cut to two games, and conceded the playoff seeding tie-breaker to Toronto, with the Raptors clinching the season series 2-1.
Lowry played down his individual effort though, which bettered the 41 he put up against Golden State on Dec. 5.
“The bigger deal is that we won the game, that’s all that matters,” he said. “I think we grew tonight but we’ve got the team to get better. Now we’ve put our efforts into Detroit and worry about Detroit.”
Lowry’s 15-for-20 performance also helped make up for an ineffective night from the team’s top scorer, DeMar DeRozan, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms and was held to a season-low six points.
Dwane Casey had insisted all day that this top-two matchup was just another game, and not a possible playoff preview, and he refused to change his tune following the victory.
“Again, it is just one game,” he said. “If we come back and stub our toe on Sunday (against the Pistons)what does it mean? Nothing, zero, it is one of 82.”
In the Cleveland dressing room, Love disagreed about the importance of the game.
“Anybody who says it wasn’t is lying to you,” he said when asked if it was a big game, particularly with the playoff tiebreaker on the line. “We knew coming in it was going to be a hostile environment away from home, they’re a very good team and had won nine in a row before tonight so we knew they were going to be tough to beat and it was no different.”
Despite leading for almost the entire game, Cleveland faltered down the stretch, allowing Toronto to tie the game with 3:03 left courtesy of a 9-0 run over 90 seconds. For James, it was the kind of performance the team has to learn from.
“It’s mental mistake after mental mistake and those hurt more than anything when you can play better mentally,” he said. “People get so caught up in the physical side of the game, we lack mental (strength) right now and we’ve got to continue to get better with it.”
Former NFL MVP and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas was at the game, zipping signed footballs into the crowd with the kind of compact spirals that almost made you forget the Buffalo Bills great was a running back and not a quarterback.
The Raptors’ reserves combined to outscore the Cavaliers’ backups 37-23, highlighted by 15 from Ross and another 11 from Bismack Biyombo.
DeRozan appeared in his 500th game with Toronto on Friday, becoming the fourth Raptors player to reach the milestone – joining Morris Peterson, Jose Calderon and Chris Bosh. He received a video tribute and a standing ovation when the milestone was announced in the first quarter.
Cavaliers: Mo Williams (left knee) sat out the game. … Cleveland is 43 of 86 from 3-point range against the Raptors this season, well above its season average of 10.1 made 3s per game. When asked if he looked for a certain number of 3s, coach Tyronn Lue said, “Not a number just open 3s. We don’t want to force shots and take really quick shots contested, but when we get our chance to get our shot and take our shot we want to take it.”
Raptors: With his two 3-pointers, Lowry tied Andrea Bargnani (579) for second on the franchise’s all-time list, and now trails only Peterson (801). … Valanciunas left game in third quarter after being elbowed in the ribs by James and headed to the dressing room for a rib/diaphragm exam. He returned to the bench later in the quarter and was back on the floor in the fourth. … Toronto has now won 26 consecutive games when holding opponents to fewer than 100 points, the second-longest streak in team history, and one shy of tying the franchise record.