TORONTO (CP) – Dwane Casey saw it as a sign of maturity on the part of his young team.
After a first half in which he thought “the lid was on the basket,” the Toronto Raptors coach watched his squad mount a second half surge to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers 98-91.
“That’s another step in our growth,” Casey said after Friday night’s win at Air Canada Centre. “Last year at this time, if we’d have missed shots like that we’d have caved in.
“But we kept grinding it, grinding it, grinding it and that’s what you have to do when the shots aren’t falling.”
The Raptors (30-25) shot a woeful 32.7 per cent from the field in the first half and trailed 44-39. But, with second-year centre Jonas Valanciunas leading the way, Toronto shot an impressive 16-for 23, or 69.5 per cent, in the third quarter on the way to winning their fourth game in five starts.
“We said we need to pick it up, we need to come out with energy,” Valanciunas, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, said of the talk in the locker room at halftime. “That’s what it was all about.
“We shot really bad the first half but we did a better job the second half and that’s what matters.”
Valanciunas scored 10 of his 14 second-half points in the third quarter, including five in a row during a 4:07 stretch that saw the Raptors turn a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
Second-year guard Terrence Ross had a team-high 20 points as the Raptors snapped the Cavaliers’ (22-34) six-game winning streak and widened their lead to 3-1/2 games over the idle Brooklyn Nets atop the NBA’s Atlantic Division.
With the win, the Raptors equalled the third-fastest time they’ve reached the 30-win mark in team history, just one game off the best mark of 54 games in both the 2009-10 and 2007-08 seasons.
The Raptors, who have missed the playoffs in each of the past five seasons, didn’t win their 30th game until their 78th outing last year.
Although Ross led the Raptors in scoring, it was his defensive play against Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, who was named MVP of last weekend’s NBA All-Star Game, that drew rave reviews from his teammates.
“Defensively, he’s always been impressive, and he’s getting better,”
Toronto guard Kyle Lowry said after Irving was held to 3-for-16 shooting on his way to 17 points. “I told him that on the bench tonight.”
Lowry had 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds. DeMar DeRozan added 14 points and five assists.
Cleveland’s Luol Deng led all scorers with 21 points and added 11 rebounds while Tristan Thompson of Brampton, Ont., added 13 points and nine assists and Anthony Bennett, also from Brampton, who last spring became the first Canadian to ever go first overall in the NBA draft, had nine points in his first game here.
“We just had to pick up our defensive intensity,” Ross said of the message delivered at halftime. “The biggest thing, we were coming out, playing too lackadaisical and we had to pick that up.”
Toronto outscored Cleveland 37-21 in the third quarter to take control.
Valanciunas made a layup with 7:22 to go in the quarter to put the Raptors up for good at 53-52.
After Valanciunas and Amir Johnson combined for just four points in the first half, Casey said he gave the big men “a wake-up call” going into the second half and they responded at both ends of the court.
“We reminded them there’s more to the game than the offensive end,”
Casey said. “You can get rebounds. You can get back in transition. You can challenge shots and you can go vertical.
“You can do a lot of different things other than make shots and I thought the second half (they) worked at it and got it done.”