CLEVELAND, Ohio — The weather outside was frightening. And there was nothing delightful.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had their five-game winning streak snapped by the feisty Toronto Raptors, 118-107. It’s Cleveland’s first loss at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse since Dec. 9. The Cavs have yet to beat Toronto this season, with the Raptors claiming the season series as a result of Wednesday night’s triumph.
“They kicked our ass, to be honest with you,” team leader Donovan Mitchell said following the loss. “You can say you have nights like that, but after a win like we had against Milwaukee, it was kind of upsetting to come out the way we did as a group, especially the starters. I put it on the starting five. We’ll be better, we’ll learn from it, and we’ll move on, but it’s definitely tough to come out the way we came out as a group.”
A blizzard warning in the area caused havoc on the roads, which led to a half-filled arena. It typically takes Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff, who lives in a westside suburb, about 25 minutes to get to work. On Friday night, that treacherous commute lasted close to an hour. Players had similar problems getting downtown. For most, the travel time was doubled.
Recommended Cavs stories
Even though there were conversations with the league throughout the day about the possibility of a postponement, the game went on as scheduled.
It looked like only one team showed up.
“You come out of the gate and give up (39) points in the first quarter, it means you’re just not ready to play,” Bickerstaff said.
The Raptors, who entered the night losers of six of their last seven games, poured in 69 first-half points — tied for the second-most against the Cavs in any half this season.
Things didn’t get better for Cleveland in the third quarter.
After trailing by 16 points at the half, the lethargic Cavs who looked ready to start their holiday celebrations early, allowed the Raptors to open the third quarter on an 11-2 run, pushing their advantage to 25. Two possessions later, the margin ballooned to a game-high 26, forcing a miffed Bickerstaff to call timeout.
Following the stoppage at the 9:25 mark, the coach wanted to send a clear message to his five starters — Mitchell, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Bickerstaff made wholesale changes, pulling all five struggling starters in favor of the reserves.
“It was the perfect thing to do. We weren’t there. We didn’t show up,” Mitchell said. “You go to guys who want to come in and pick up the energy. We didn’t answer the call, we deserved to be benched for that time. And I would have thought it would have been the whole game, just based off our play. Sometimes you need that. Give a huge credit to the guys who came in. JB did the right thing. We shouldn’t have been out there and it looked bad. And the other guys had our back.”
Despite that energetic quintet cutting the lead in half around the three-minute mark of the third, the Raptors regained control and were ahead by 20 through three quarters.
Cleveland needed a Christmas Eve Eve miracle.
Bickerstaff went back to his starters — and they opened the fourth on a 7-0 surge, sending a temporary jolt through the arena. By the midway point of the fourth, Toronto’s lead was down to 12. The Cavs got as close as nine. But couldn’t dig themselves all the way out of the deep early hole. Toronto led for 46 minutes Wednesday night — another dominant performance against the Cavs, who seemed to struggle with the Raptors’ length, athleticism and physicality for the third time this season.
“When you foul the whole game — and they’re really good at it — they can foul the whole game and the refs aren’t going to call it on each possession,” Mitchell said. “You gotta give them credit. They’re physical. We came out expecting certain things to go our way, waiting for foul calls that weren’t there. They just were the aggressor. We were on our heels the whole night.”
SIGN UP BONUS
$100 BONUS + CAVS LOTTERY TICKET
Toronto, the league’s worst 3-point shooting team, went 19 of 37 on triples. Nearly half of their made shots were from beyond the arc. It was a 3-point avalanche.
“We weren’t playing any defense,” Bickerstaff said.
OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam each scored 26 points to pace the Raptors. Scottie Barnes, who beat out Mobley for Rookie of the Year last season, chipped in with 25. Against the league’s top-ranked defense, Toronto shot 50% from the field and 51.4% from deep.
Cleveland was led by All-Star point guard Garland, who had 17 points. Mitchell struggled throughout, finishing with just 12 points on 4 of 16 from the field.
The Cavs trekked through the snow and entered the game looking to build off their biggest win of the season against Milwaukee two nights earlier. But that response was far from championship-level — the heights they are trying to reach this season.
“The disappointing part was our response to success,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s what this league is about at the end of the day. You win a game on a Wednesday night in December, it doesn’t mean anything. I don’t think our response to winning a few games was what it needed to be.
“I think when you have success, you tend to get comfortable and the great thing about the NBA is as soon as you get comfortable somebody kicks you in your face and Toronto is just the team to do it. The style that they play, the physicality that they play with, if you are high on your horse, they’ll knock you down pretty quickly and I think they showed us that tonight.”
Back in action
Lamar Stevens returned from a three-game absence due to right knee soreness. Playing on a restriction, Stevens came off the bench Friday night. He tallied six points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
During a brilliant first half, Toronto repeatedly raced out in transition, scoring 22 fastbreak points compared to just six for Cleveland. The final tally in that category was 27-12 in favor of the Raptors.
The Cavs will wrap up their six game homestand with a showdown against the surging Brooklyn Nets on Monday. Tipoff is set for 7 pm
If you or a loved one has questions and needs to talk to a professional about gambling, call the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-589-9966 or the National Council on Program Gambling Helpline (NCPG) at 1-800-522- 4700.