CLEVELAND, Ohio — As a physical first half ended Sunday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors needed to be separated.
Two teams with fading playoff hopes, desperate to turn their seasons around, fighting the frustration that seeps in with every loss. Tensions were high inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — and they spilled onto the court, directly in front of the Toronto bench.
The Raptors, displaced from Toronto this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, were riding a seven-game losing skid. The Cavs had lost five of six. Something had to give. Cleveland channeled those emotions and added to Toronto’s season of misery, beating the Raptors 116-105.
That late-quarter dustup resulted in double technical fouls to Collin Sexton and Norman Powell, the two players who were battling on that final inbounds and started jawing shortly after Sexton and Fred VanVleet briefly exchanged words. Teammates, coaches and referees eventually broke it up and sent both teams to the locker room so they could cool down.
Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff spoke to the team at halftime. He told them the prideful Raptors would come out swinging. He issued a challenge, demanding his guys be ready.
This time, the Cavs hit first, scoring the first 12 points of the third quarter. Seven came from Sexton, who was clearly angered by that first-half squabble and clapped enthusiastically after each bucket. Sexton scored 14 points in the third quarter, helping the Cavs reverse their fortunes with a 32-18 edge in those decisive 12 minutes.
Don’t poke the bear. Or, in this case, the Bull.
Sexton was befitting of his unstoppable nickname in scoring a game-high 36 points, including 23 in the second half. He went 13-of-24 from the field and 6-of-9 from 3-point range, adding four assists, three rebounds and two steals. With 5:23 remaining, Sexton canned a left-wing 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 11 at that point. Sexton put three fingers to his forehead and saluted the Toronto bench. Message sent.
“Collin took that challenge and he carried us in the third quarter,” Bickerstaff said following the win. “When you have those incidents you have to be prepared to back it up. You’re playing against guys that have championship DNA. I thought that was impressive to me, how we responded in the third quarter. You can’t expect a guy to do that on his own, we are a team. I thought all those guys rallied around him and then he led the way.”
Sexton’s big night helped the Cavs overcome 27 turnovers that allowed the Raptors to hang around late, even cutting the lead to five with less than a minute remaining.
“I thought we got rushed versus their pressure,” Bickerstaff said. “I give them a ton of credit. Their players are great competitors, their coach is a really good coach, obviously their team is well coached and they were physical, they were aggressive, they were handsy and they sped us up. We’ve got to learn to fight pressure with patience and be stronger, more secure with the ball and just make the easy play more often.”
Jarrett Allen made a few key buckets — and worked his way to the free-throw line — down the stretch as well, finishing with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Dean Wade poured in 16 points off the bench. Darius Garland added 15 points and six assists. Larry Nance Jr., starting in place of injured Kevin Love once again, also reached double figures, scoring 10 points to go with seven boards and two assists.
The Raptors were led by VanVleet, who tallied 23 points. Powell chipped in with 18. OG Anunoby scored 17, including 12 in the fourth quarter as Toronto was trying to rally.
Following the game, Sexton said the Raptors woke him up. Big mistake. He got the last word.
JaVale McGee returns
McGee missed Friday’s loss to San Antonio because of an illness. The backup center was able to practice the next day and cleared to return to game action. In 14 minutes, McGee scored six points to go with seven rebounds.
Andre Drummond sighting
Sitting since mid-February as Cleveland’s front office tries to find a trade ahead of the March 25 deadline, Andre Drummond watched the second half on the bench next to teammates and coaches. Drummond, a two-time NBA All-Star who has been at the center of leaguewide trade chatter, stayed engaged during timeouts, offering pointers and encouragement.
The Cavs will wrap up their four-game homestand Monday night against the Sacramento Kings. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m.