CLEVELAND — Jonas Valanciunas made his first career 3-pointer and the Toronto Raptors closed the regular season with a 98-83 win on Wednesday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who didn’t play their “Big 3” All-Stars so they’re playoff ready.
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 post-season. Cleveland took Toronto down in six games in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
Although there was still a chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the East, the Cavs put more value on rest and sat LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Cleveland fell to 0-4 in games this season without the trio and 0-8 minus James.
The Cavs did get forward Tristan Thompson back after he missed 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 centre 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 defence and raised his arms in triumph as his teammates celebrated as if he had just hit a game-winner.
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 the club’s inconsistency and an outside belief they are vulnerable and can get knocked out before the Finals, Lue remains confident his team will step up when it matters most.
“It’s enough talking and the playoffs are here,” Lue said. “We either got to put up or shut up, and I think we’ll put up.”
Raptors: G Kyle 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. He averaged 29.7 points in three games against the Cavs. … 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 post-season, 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.”
Raptors: No. 3 seed opens the playoffs at home against No. 6 seed Milwaukee. Toronto went 3-1 against the Bucks this season.
Cavaliers: The champs begin defending their title at home against Indiana, Chicago or Miami.
Tom Withers, The Associated Press