TORONTO — Kyle Lowry once again guided the Toronto Raptors to a victory — it was a fitting ending to a fabulous year.
Lowry, wearing baby-pink shoes, scored 24 points and dished out eight assists, guiding the short-handed Toronto Raptors to an easy 117-97 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on New Year's Eve.
"Kyle Lowry is a Hall of Famer," said Cavs forward and Canadian Tristan Thompson. "He's their backbone. He keeps this ship running and he's playing at a high level. Kyle's a bulldog, he's going to compete every night. That's why his teammates always love him."
Six Raptors scored in double figures. Terence Davis matched his career high with 19 points, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 14, and Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby had 12 points apiece for the Raptors (23-11).
And then the defending NBA champions breathed a collective sigh of relief to see the end of their busiest month of the season. The Raptors went 9-7 in December, and played the past seven games without Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norm Powell (shoulder).
"It's felt busy," said coach Nick Nurse. "I think we've done okay. I'm proud. I think the guys have fought. There's only been a couple blips where we didn't play worth a darn. Most of the time we've won or we've had a chance and they've been real close. They've been tough. Bounce of a ball here or there, we might have won a bunch of those."
Collin Sexton had 22 points to top the Cavaliers (10-23), while Thompson, from Brampton, Ont., had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Cavaliers were traditionally one of the season's biggest draws before proverbial Raptor-killer LeBron James bolted for Los Angeles, but the Cavs trudged into Toronto on Tuesday way down in 12th in the Eastern Conference. As predicted, they posed little trouble for the Raptors, who recorded their fifth consecutive home victory over Cleveland, a win streak that included a 133-113 rout here two weeks ago.
Coming off a one-point loss to Oklahoma City two nights earlier, the Raptors cobbled together a double-digit lead in the second quarter Tuesday, and by the time Ibaka hit a hook shot with 3:33 to play in the third, Toronto was up by 21. The Raptors led 86-69 to start the fourth in front of a festive capacity crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena.
The Raptors didn't let up in the fourth. Davis, who had 14 points in the frame, injected some life into the crowd with a rim-hanging dunk with five minutes to play, but with the game well in hand, plenty of fans departed soon after to beat the crowd.
The Raptors have fought through lengthy absences to key players all season long, but this past stretch has been the toughest. What's been the key to success amid the injuries?
"It's just the work we put in, it's not really a holiday, guys in the gym putting in the work, getting the reps up, working on our bodies," Davis said. "Guys have been in and out of the lineup. We're used to it now. We trust each other. We just bring energy off the bench."
VanVleet had four blocks on the night.
"Assuming that's a career high," he laughed. "I dunno, it's like a block/steal thing, stripping the ball down they don't usually give me a block for that, so I'll take it."
Three-point shooting was a big difference on the night. The Raptors connected on 43.6 per cent from long distance, while the Cavs were good on just 26.3 per cent.
Anunoby, who lost his spot in the starting lineup to Hollis-Jefferson, nailed three consecutive shots when he subbed in, including a catch-and-shoot three-pointer from Lowry with 1.8 seconds left in the first quarter. The basket sent the Raptors into the second quarter with a 27-25 lead.
"(Anunoby) did a good job of coming in ready to go, he played pretty much identical to the way he's been playing, he just made shots," VanVleet said. "So that's kind of the cure-all in most situations, make some shots, that's all you look for."
Lowry led the way with 11 points in the second, and his 33-footer put the Raptors up by 14 points late in the quarter. A running layup by Hollis-Jefferson with 1.6 seconds left in the half had Toronto up 59-43 at halftime.
The game ended the busiest month of the season for Toronto, with 16 games including three back-to-back sets. The Raptors tip off 2020 in Miami on Thursday and Brooklyn on Saturday before returning home to host Portland on Jan. 7.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 31, 2019.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press