CLEVELAND — With the Toronto Raptors trying to make a push for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the Cavaliers playing free and easy with no pressure, Raptors coach Nick Nurse wasn’t overconfident going into Monday night’s game at Quicken Loans Arena.
Not when the Raptors were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and tied a franchise record with 21 3-pointers Sunday in Miami, a shooting performance Nurse said comes maybe twice a season.
Nurse had no idea that another rarity -- or at least it would be for anyone not named Serge Ibaka -- was in store. In the third quarter, the 10-year veteran lost his cool, grabbing the Cavs’ Marquese Chriss by the neck and punching him, a fight that ended with them both ejected and might result in a suspensions.
The Cavs frustrated the Raptors all night and pulled away for a 126-101 victory, snapping a two-game losing streak.
The Raptors won the season series 3-1, but failed in their attempt to sweep the Cavs (17-50) for the first time since 2000-01. The Raptors have not won a four-game series against the Cavs since 2011-12. The Raptors (48-20) trail the Milwaukee Bucks (50-17) by 2½ games in the East.
The game was marred by the fight, which came with one second remaining in the third quarter and the Cavs leading 91-77.
Norman Powell threw a length-of-the-court inbounds pass to Ibaka, who fell in front of the basket when contested by Chriss as the ball sailed out of bounds. Chriss threw up his hands, perhaps trying to show there had been no shove, then said something to Ibaka as he walked by him on the floor.
Ibaka jumped up and grabbed Chriss around the neck before throwing punches, pinning Chriss against the stanchion. After review, both players were escorted out, Chriss clapping as he headed to the locker room. After the game, officials told Cavs coach Larry Drew that Chriss also threw punches.
Instead of using the incident as inspiration, the Raptors fell even further behind as the Cavs boosted the margin to 98-81 with 9:22 remaining on a jumper by Jordan Clarkson.
All five Cavs starters scored in double figures, led by Collin Sexton with 28 points (one shy of his career high), four rebounds and five assists. Sexton totaled just 19 points in the first two games against the Raptors this season, and had 36 points in the three games, the last on Dec. 21.
Cedi Osman contributed 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, one off his career-high, despite 6-of-16 shooting. Ante Zizic added 17 points and seven rebounds. Kevin Love posted his ninth double-double of the season with 16 points and 18 rebounds (one off his season-high), but shot just 4-of-11 from the field. He did revel in the fact that he finally connected on a touchdown pass, hitting Osman in the fourth quarter.
Brandon Knight scored 12 points with five assists and Clarkson came off the bench for 14 points. David Nwaba had nine points and Nik Stauskas added eight points, six rebounds and five assists.
Early in the third quarter, Love had drawn more charges (three) than field goals made (one). But with the Cavs leading 72-64, Sexton helped get Love going, twice feeding him for 3-pointers from virtually the same spot left of the key. Love’s 3-pointers helped the Cavs open a 78-66 lead with 5:11 left in the quarter.
The Raptors have a favorable schedule down the stretch, with only four games remaining against teams above .500 (Detroit, Brooklyn and two vs. Oklahoma City). But even with a small but vocal contingent of Toronto fans in the stands, the Raptors lacked motivation, playing with a flip-the-switch mentality that became familiar for Cavs fans during LeBron James’ second stint in Cleveland.
Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 25 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Pascal Siakam had 15 points and Kyle Lowry contributed 14 points, five rebounds and six assists.
The Raptors committed 20 turnovers, the Cavs 15.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.