TORONTO (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers lost J.R. Smith to a left knee injury early in the game, though LeBron James wouldn’t allow his team to let up on the Toronto Raptors one bit.
James scored a season-high 34 points as the Cavaliers broke a three-game losing streak with a 116-112 victory on Monday night.
It was their third straight victory this season over the Raptors, the team they beat on their way to the championship in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.
“Next man up,” he said. “It’s always been our mindset; obviously we hope the MRI’s come back positive with J.R.’s injury, so it’s next man up and guys have to be able to fulfill that.”
Smith injured his left knee in the first quarter after landing on a jump shot and hobbled to the dressing room in considerable pain. He did not return, and the Cavaliers said X-rays taken at the arena were negative and that the guard would return to Cleveland on Tuesday for further examination.
Coach Tyronn Lue said he was “not sure on what it is,” with regards to the precise nature of Smith’s knee injury.
Kevin Love had 28 points and 14 rebounds for his team-leading 13th double-double of the season and his third straight against the Raptors. Kyrie Irving added 24 points, his career-high 10th straight game with at least 20. Canadian Tristan Thompson chipped in with a season high-equaling 14 rebounds.
DeMar DeRozan had 31 points and Kyle Lowry added 24 for Toronto, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.
For Irving, winning the season series, and gaining the tiebreaker, over Toronto is something to celebrate, particularly when it also ended the Cavs’ skid.
“We know we are going to get their best shot all the time,” he said. “We compete at a high level against one another, so it’s great to come here or them come to Cleveland. It always comes down to basically the last two or three minutes.”
Monday’s game was no different. Cleveland seized control of the game in the third quarter with a 23-11 run, turning a one-point halftime edge into a 13-point lead on Love’s sixth 3-pointer of the game with 3:35 to play in the quarter. The Cavs eventually took a 90-81 advantage into the fourth.
A turnaround jump shot from DeRozan with 24 seconds remaining closed the gap to five, and he followed that up with a 3-pointer 10 seconds later that looked to put the result in doubt, but after review he was ruled out of bounds. Love then made a pair of free throws.
“They know how to win,” DeRozan said. “Throughout the whole game they understand when they have to turn it up on both ends, so with that you can’t put yourself in a hole deeper than what you are already in, especially against this team. You know they are the champions.”
Cavaliers: F Mike Dunleavy returned after missing the last two games with concussion-like symptoms. … The Cavaliers received a scare just 1:29 into the game when James fell awkwardly after converting an alley-oop dunk. He remained on one knee and Cleveland responded by calling a timeout, but he was back on the court when the game resumed.
Raptors: DeRozan tied Morris Peterson for the most appearances in Raptors’ history with his 542nd game in Toronto colors on Monday.
Lue thinks the Cavaliers will have to see the Raptors again in the postseason if they want to successfully defend their title.
“To get to the (NBA) Finals we’ve got to beat each other,” he said. “It’s always a tough game when we play these guys.”
After being elbowed in the mouth by Love going for a rebound with 5:22 to play in the first quarter, Lowry headed to the dressing room to be examined by a dentist. He didn’t lose any teeth and returned to the court after receiving a shot of Novocain, according to the team.
As part of the third annual Giants of Africa night, an event conceived by Toronto president Masai Ujiri to honor the legacy of late South African president Nelson Mandela, the Raptors wore specially designed blue warm-up T-shirts with “1” and “Mandela” on the back. Mandela’s grandson, Kweku Mandela, was in attendance for the game.
Cavaliers: Visit New York tonight aiming for an eighth straight win over the Knicks.