Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) drives past Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during first half NBA basketball action in Toronto, Thursday, March 24, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Siakam pours in 35 points in Raptors’ 117-104 win over Cleveland

Raptors 117 Cavaliers 104

TORONTO — Pascal Siakam had a season-high five three-pointers and 35 points to lead the Toronto Raptors to a 117-104 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in a key Eastern Conference game on Thursday.

Chris Boucher had 17 points and eight rebounds, while OG Anunoby, who returned after missing 15 games with a fractured right ring finger, had 14 points for Toronto (41-32). Scottie Barnes had 11 points, while Fred VanVleet and Precious Achiuwa chipped in with 10 apiece.

Lauri Markkanen topped the Cavs (41-32) with 20 points.

The Raptors had a 14-point first-half lead against their conference rival, but the Cavs whittled it down to 83-75 by the start of the fourth quarter.

Lamar Stevens’ three-pointer pulled Cleveland to within seven early in the fourth, but the Raptors bounced back, and when Armoni Brooks, who’s on his second 10-day contract with Toronto, launched a three, the Scotiabank Arena crowd roared with anticipation. The basket was good, and Toronto was back up 94-81 with 7:39 to play.

Evan Mobley’s basket with 4:21 to play made it an eight-point game, but the Raptors buckled down and Barnes muscled to the hoop with just under three minutes left to give Toronto a 14-point lead. Cleveland guard Caris LeVert hit a three with 2:09 left, but the Raptors already had the win well in hand. Coach Nick Nurse subbed off his starters a half a minute later, sending happy Raptors fans flocking to the exits.

With nine games left in the regular season, the Raptors are chasing a top-six spot in the Eastern Conference, thus avoiding the play-in route to the post-season. If the playoffs started Friday, Cleveland would have the tiebreaker over Toronto with their 3-1 season-series record.

The Chicago Bulls were two games ahead of Toronto in fifth before Thursday’s games.

Anunoby’s return was welcome relief for the Raptors ahead of the post-season. Only a day earlier, Nurse had said he was uncertain about his return, and that he hoped to see the forward play at least a few of the remaining games before the playoffs. Anunoby was solid in his 26 minutes, connecting on four three-pointers, including back-to-back long bombs in the first half.

The game was the last matchup between top NBA rookie of the year candidates Barnes and Mobley, who had 11 points and eight rebounds.

The game marked the first at home for the Raptors since the elimination of mask requirements in Ontario. While still “strongly encouraged” by Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Ltd., there were far fewer fans in the capacity crowd of 19,800 with masks than without.

Gary Trent Jr. (toe) and Malachi Flynn (hamstring) remained out for Toronto.

Anunoby drilled a three for Toronto’s first points of the game, Siakam had 12 first-quarter points, and a Raptors’ 20-5 run gave them an early 10-point lead. The Raptors took a 25-17 advantage into the second quarter.

The Cavs sliced the difference to just three points early in the second, but thanks in part to Boucher’s 11 points in the frame, the Raptors were up by 14 with 1:49 left in the half. They headed for the halftime locker-room with a 58-48 lead.

Thursday’s game was the first of four straight at home. Toronto hosts Indiana on Saturday, Boston on Monday, and Minnesota on Wednesday before travelling to Orlando for one of just two road games left in the regular-season.