Cavs throw first punch, beat Raptors 116-105

Cavs 116 Raptors 105

CLEVELAND — LeBron James, and the Cavaliers’ three-point shooting spelled another Game 1 loss for the Toronto Raptors.

James scored 35 points to lift Cleveland to a 116-105 victory over Toronto in the opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday.

Kyle Lowry had 20 points and 11 assists, while DeMar DeRozan finished with 19 points. P.J. Tucker had 13 points and 11 rebounds, Serge Ibaka chipped in 15 points, and Norman Powell finished with 12 points.

But the Raptors had no answer for the Cavs’ three-point shooting — the No. 2 team in the league in the regular season went 14 of 34 from beyond the arc.

The loss dropped the Raptors to 1-12 in playoff series openers, their lone victory coming in the second round against Philadelphia in 2001.

In a game of wild runs, the Raptors would trail by as little as two points last in the second quarter, and by as many as 25 late in the third. The Cavaliers led 96-74 to start the fourth quarter.

But the Raptors would come no closer than 16 points over the final 12 minutes, and when Channing Frye drove to the hoop for a dunk with two minutes to play, it put the Cavs up by 22 points, and victorious Cleveland fans began to bolt for the exits. Both coaches then emptied their benches.

The Raptors shot 44 per cent on the night, and were 10 of 26 from three-point range. They coughed up 18 points on turnovers compared to just eight for the Cavs. Cleveland also went to the free throw line nine more times than Toronto did.

Since 2015, the Cavaliers have gone 29-4 in the post-season against Eastern Conference opponents, including 16-1 at home.

Game 2 is Wednesday in Cleveland then the series shifts to Toronto for Game 3 on Friday and Game 4 on Sunday.

James was 13 of 23 from the field, and grabbed 10 rebounds, and had the crowd chuckling when he missed a shot then jokingly grabbed a beer from the courtside waitress.

James is the “hub of everything,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey had said before tipoff. “He’s a quarterback, he’s a point guard, he’s a power forward, he’s a small forward, he’s a shooting guard, he’s everything. So the way you kind of manoeuvre and match around him is so important. That’s what I remember most about him last year, is trying to figure that out.”

Tristan Thompson of Brampton, Ont., grabbed 14 rebounds to go with 11 points for the Cavs.

Tuesday will be adjustment day for Casey and his staff, as they look for better ways to contain James and the Cavs.

Quicken Loans Arena was awash in yellow “Defend the Land” T-shirts. Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar and Browns cornerback Joe Haden were among the fans. Old school hip hop artist Montell Jordan sang his 1995 hit “This is How We Do It” at halftime. Photos of Justin Bieber and Nickelback flashed on the Jumbotron during Raptors free throws.

The hostile environment was nothing new for Toronto, after their three games in front of an even louder, earsplitting crowd in Milwaukee.

The Cavs clobbered the Raptors 115-85 in last year’s Game 1, but the Raptors had just one day to prepare after their seven-game series with Miami, and Casey talked about how they’d been “ambushed” in that game.

While their first quarter on Monday wasn’t as ugly, Toronto’s shots weren’t falling, and the Cavs raced out to a 12-point lead. James set the pace early, and less than three minutes in, Irving tossed the ball off the backboard for James to finish with a huge dunk. The Cavaliers led 30-18 to start the second.

Trailing by 18 points early in the second, the Raptors replied with a 19-3 run capped by a three-point play from Lowry that pulled Toronto to within two points. But then the Raptors went cold, going 3-of-12 to end the half. The Cavs regained momentum, finishing with a 21-9 run to take a 62-48 lead into the halftime break.

The Raptors pulled to within seven points in the third, but the Cavs replied once again, and a cutting layup by Thompson had Cleveland back up by 25 with 38 seconds left in the third.

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