They staggered to the finish line, falling flat and looking nothing like champions.
It’s time for the Cavaliers to get up. It’s playoff time.
LeBron James watched in street clothes as Jonas Valanciunas dropped his first career 3-pointer and the Toronto Raptors closed the regular season with a 98-83 win on Wednesday night over Cleveland, which sat James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love so they’re playoff ready.
The past few weeks have been a challenging stretch for the Cavs, who closed the regular season going 10-14 since March 1. They head into the postseason looking very vulnerable.
But while the crown appears shaky, the Cavs, who dropped their last four and the No. 1 seed in the East, feel like they can defend it.
”I feel very confident that we’ve got a good run in us,” coach Tyronn Lue said. ”I think we’re good.”
Norman Powell scored 25 points as the Raptors beat the Cavs for the first time in four tries this season and gave the defending champions something to think about if they meet in the postseason. Cleveland took Toronto down in six games in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
Although there was still a chance to get the top seed, the Cavs put more value on rest and sat James, Irving and Love, who will be fresh for Saturday’s Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers.
Toronto will open at home against Milwaukee on Saturday. The Raptors have higher expectations this spring, and Lowry is eager to get started.
”It’s a new year and we’ve moved on to Milwaukee,” he said. ”Honestly, we can’t worry about anything that happened before or in last season’s playoffs. This is a heck of a time.”
The Cavs did end the season on one positive as forward Tristan Thompson returned after missing four games with a sprained right thumb. Wearing a brace that he’ll sport in the playoffs, Thompson scored 10 points in 18 minutes.
Cleveland also got its first look at newly signed 7-foot-3 center Edy Tavares, who blocked six shots and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Raptors, too, chose to keep legs fresh as All-Star forward DeMar DeRozan (flu-like symptoms) and Serge Ibaka watched.
This game looked more like a preseason exhibition than a matchup between two of the league’s top teams. Both Toronto coach Dwane Casey and Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue opted to get players off their feet and played reserves after halftime.
The biggest highlight was Valanciunas’ long shot.
Playing in his 363rd career game, the 7-foot Lithuanian caught a pass and transition and stepped behind the line before knocking down just his second 3-point attempt. He backpedaled on defense and raised his arms in triumph as his teammates celebrated as if he had just hit a game-winner.
”I wanted to smile, but I knew we had a long way to go in the game,” Casey said.
James, who will attempt to get to his seventh straight Finals in the coming weeks, stayed in street clothes while Irving and Love wore their warmups for Cleveland’s final home game. It was a somewhat fitting ending to the 82-game schedule for the Cavs, who at times seemed bored with the regular season and also endured injuries and roster upheaval.
But they’re as healthy as they’ve been in quite some time, and that gives
”We got a lot of veteran guys who know what’s going on here and know what it takes to be successful,” Thompson said. ”It’s just time to get it rolling.”
Cleveland went 3-1 against Indiana.
But in the last matchup, the Cavs had to go to double overtime in a 135-130 victory. James and Paul George matched either shot for shot. James finished with 41 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists to George’s 43 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
Raptors: Lowry scored 13 in his fifth game back after undergoing wrist surgery. … DeRozan finished the season with a career-high 2,020 points, while his 27.3 average was the second highest in franchise history. Vince Carter averaged 27.6 in 2000-2001. … Toronto ranked last in the NBA in assists as a team. . Toronto finished 23-18 on the road,, matching Cleveland’s away mark.
Cavaliers: James averaged 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and a career-high 8.7 assists. … With two open roster spots, Cleveland re-signed G Dahntay Jones for the playoffs and Tavares, who got a two-year deal. Jones was with the Cavs during the 2016 postseason, and the 12-year veteran provided toughness, experience and quality minutes in the Finals. The well-liked Jones also brings some accountability. ”Dahntay is going to make it clear that you’re not holding up your end of the bargain,” general manager David Griffin said. ”We missed that.”
Source: Tom Withers