LeBron and Kyrie shine as Cavs again outlast feisty Raptors

Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry put on a show on Tuesday night. (Getty Images)
Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry put on a show on Tuesday night. (Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors entered Tuesday night on a roll, winners of three straight and six of seven, with a belief they could beat anybody fueled by the unreal season-opening offensive work of DeMar DeRozan, the NBA’s leading scorer. For 43 minutes, they seemed set to prove it, too, staying with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers step for step and shot for shot.

NBA games last 48 minutes, though. And in those final five, Cleveland handed Toronto a cold cup of coffee to remind them yet again of an inconvenient truth: The Cavs have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and the Raptors don’t.

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For the second time this young season, the Raps gave the Cavs everything they could handle, coming back from a 12-point late-third-quarter deficit to take a seven-point lead with 4:25 remaining courtesy of a deep 3-pointer from All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. From there, though, Cleveland’s two top guns took over, scoring or assisting on all but one point in an 18-7 game-closing run that gave the Cavs a 121-117 win, their second nailbiting W of the season over the team they knocked off in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals.

Hours after making national headlines by taking New York Knicks president Phil Jackson to task for using what he believed to be coded language in referring to his business partners as his “posse,” James looked locked in from the opening tip and left his fingerprints all over the game, finishing with 28 points on 10-for-15 shooting, 14 assists (10 of which led to either a dunk, a layup or a 3-pointer) and nine rebounds in 38 minutes of floor time.

As it did time and again in the 2016 postseason and in Cleveland’s Sunday win over the Charlotte Hornets, James’ pick-and-pop partnership with stretch five Channing Frye proved a nightmarish cover for the Raptors in the late stages. The veteran floor spacer scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter on 4-for-5 shooting, including a 3-for-4 mark from downtown, capped by a huge triple with a crossmatched Lowry at his feet to give Cleveland a two-point advantage with 59 seconds remaining in the fourth.

James set the table and Frye bombed away, but it was Irving — whose 3-point dagger proved the difference-maker in the season’s first meeting between these teams — who catalyzed the Cavs midway through the final frame.

The star point guard scored 10 points in just under three minutes on a pair of acrobatic finishes with a flourish and two big 3s, helping turn a seven-point deficit into a one-point lead with just under two minutes remaining. Irving would finish with 24 points on 10-for-20 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and two steals to help the Cavs hang on down the stretch and improve to 9-1 on the season, their best mark through 10 games in 40 years.

The Cavs needed every ounce of James and Irving’s brilliance, because Toronto just kept coming on Tuesday. After a game-opening flurry, the steady diet of super-difficult contested midrange looks on which DeRozan has made his living early this season finally started to dry up, but the Raptors stayed afloat thanks to contributions from some unlikely sources — rookie Pascal Siakam and sophomore Norman Powell, starting in place of Jared Sullinger (still working his way back from foot surgery) and DeMarre Carroll (resting a sore knee), combined for 20 points on 12 shots, six rebounds, five assists and four blocks — and a return to star form from Lowry.

The Raptors’ bulldog bellwether rose to the occasion of his matchup with Irving, turning in his best game of the season with 28 points on 11-for-23 shooting with nine assists, five rebounds, four steals and just one turnover in 40 minutes on the ball. He was active, aggressive, opportunistic and downright lethal late, creating extra possessions and turning them into buckets by scoring or assisting on 17 of Toronto’s first 26 fourth-quarter points. Even with DeRozan coming back to earth — he’d finish with 26 points on 10-for-27 shooting, just his second sub-30-point outing in nine games, going 6-for-18 from between the restricted area and the 3-point arc — it looked for a minute like Lowry and Terrence Ross (10 points in the fourth, 18 in the game in 25 minutes off the bench) represented enough firepower for the Raptors to hold on.

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With the game in the balance, though, the Cavs shut Toronto’s water off, holding the Raps to 3-for-10 shooting in the final 4:25, and wrested away control of the game behind a steady diet of stellar work from James and Irving. The Raptors stayed within one or two scores in a finish marred by some questionable whistles on both sides, but couldn’t get back on top to notch anything more than a moral victory that, for their part, they’re not all that interested in claiming.

“I’m not encouraged by any loss,” Lowry said after the game, according to Tom Withers of The Associated Press. “We want to win every single game. Every time we touch the floor we want to win games.”

Against most teams, the Raptors have the goods to do that. To get where they want to go, though, they’ll have to go through the Cavs … and for the time being, at least, it remains unclear they can.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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