TORONTO — When things got tough, the Cleveland Cavaliers got tougher.
After defeating the Knicks in a close game in New York on Thursday, they had a difficult flight and did not arrive in Toronto until about 3:30 a.m. for a game against the hot Toronto Raptors.
The Cavaliers did not let any of it bother them as they led nearly all the way to extend their winning streak to six games with a 105-91 victory over the Raptors.
“Sometimes when you deal with a little bit of adversity like the tough game that we had last night and very, very tough travel and immediate turnaround, less than 24 hours for back-to-back game against the No. 1 team in the East, it raises your level of motivation and awareness,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “And I thought that’s just what happened. … We just came to play and it was evident from the very first minute.”
Forward LeBron James led the way with 24 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.
But a Toronto native, Tristan Thompson, played a big part in Cleveland’s win.
The forward/center came off the bench to provide 21 points and 14 rebounds in nearly 33 minutes. “Every night the coach challenges us, the bench, to come out and bring some life,” Thompson said. “We don’t want our stars to play so heavy minutes and drain themselves so we have to be able to come in and keep the energy high and that’s what we did tonight. It’s always fun to come in and play the Raptors. I guess these games are a little heightened because we have a new teammate (James) and they’re playing really well right now.”
“Tristan came out and played an exceptional game on both ends of the court,” Blatt said.
James had eight points and two assists in the third quarter when the Cavaliers (11-7) let a seven-point halftime lead slip and fell behind by a point before coming back to take a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter. It gave the Raptors (15-5) their third loss at home against nine wins.
Forward Kevin Love added 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds with guard Kyrie Irving chipping in 15 points and six assists.
“They were hitting on all cylinders and they were executing as well as you could ask for,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “I would say I know this team tonight wasn’t us.”
Forward Amir Johnson led the Raptors with a season-best 27 points and had seven rebounds. Guard Kyle Lowry scored 22 points and dished out nine assists while reserve forward James Johnson scored 11 points with six rebounds.
“It was our defensive schemes,” Amir Johnson said. “We were not fully committed to all our defensive schemes. We would go and trap and wouldn’t rotation to the right positions. I put the game on us, we were just flat.”
The Raptors took a 58-57 lead nearly five minutes into the third quarter on Lowry’s 3-pointer. The Cavaliers answered by going on a 16-2 surge and led 76-64 at the end of the third quarter.
The Raptors cut the lead to six with 5:46 to play after forward Terrence Ross and Lowry hit successive 3-pointers. Thompson made two free throws with 4:40 to play to give Cleveland an eight-point lead and after a Raptors miss, Thompson made a dunk on a pass from James.
Amir Johnson’s dunk cut the lead to six with two minutes left. Thompson made two free throws to restore the eight-point lead and took advantage of a traveling call on the Raptors to score on a hook shot for a 10-point lead with 1:08 to play.
Thompson made the final two points of the first quarter, following Love’s 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 30-21 lead.
A pair of 3-pointers by guard/forward James Jones helped the Cavaliers take a 38-24 lead two minutes into the second quarter. Cleveland led 51-44 at the half. Amir Johnson led all scorers with 17 points, going 8-for-10 from the field.
The Cavaliers shot 50 percent from the field while limiting the Raptors to 38.3 percent in the first half and outshot Toronto 48.8 percent to 40.7 percent on the game.
NOTES: Cavaliers G/F Mike Miller (concussion) remained in New York overnight under the NBA concussion protocol after being injured in Thursday’s win over the Knicks. … There were tributes to former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela before and during the game on the first anniversary of his death. … Raptors G DeMar DeRozan (torn left adductor longus tendon) said before the game that he is being evaluated “week to week.” No return date has been set. He was injured in the loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 28. … The Raptors won the first meeting of the season between the teams, 110-93, on Nov. 22 at Cleveland. … The teams meet for the third time this season next Tuesday in Cleveland after both teams play Monday with the Raptors playing host to the Denver Nuggets and the Cavaliers visiting the Brooklyn Nets.
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