TORONTO â€” The Toronto Raptors’ season has come to an end â€” but they didn’t go down without a fight.
Serge Ibaka scored 23 points, while DeMar DeRozan added 22 and the Raptors took Cleveland to the last few couple of minutes before dropping a 109-102 decision to the Cavaliers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
It was the first playoff sweep for Toronto since the opening round against Washington in 2015. The Cavs, who dispatched the Raptors in six games in last season’s Eastern Conference final, became the first team ever to start 8-0 in the playoffs in back to back seasons.
Cory Joseph, who started for the second straight game in place of injured Kyle Lowry (ankle) had 20 points and 12 assists, while P.J. Tucker finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
LeBron James had 35 points to top the reigning NBA champion Cavs, while Kyrie Irving had 27 and Kyle Korver finished with 18.
Hoping to stave off elimination, the Raptors were more aggressive from the opening whistle than they’d been all series. They were making shots, the Cavs were missing, and Toronto went up by 11 points â€” their highest lead of the series.
But the sharp-shooting Cavs weren’t cold for long. Their three-point shots, whether uncontested or contested, starting falling, and can’t-miss Korver, who was acquired in January from Atlanta for nights just like this, had four in the second quarter alone. The Raptors’ lead was a 16-point deficit by early in the third quarter.
The Raptors found another gear in the third, and when Tucker launched a three with 0.8 left in the quarter it cut Cleveland’s lead to 85-80 with one quarter left.
Fuelled by a raucous white-clad Air Canada Centre crowd that included Drake, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore and Eriq Zavaleta, Ibaka scored and drew a foul in front of the Cavs bench. His free throw gave the Raptors a one-point lead with 6:38 to play.
Irving responded with 11 straight points to put the Cavs up by eight with four minutes to play. James drained a three over Tucker with 2:54 to play that capped a 14-2 Cavs run. The Raptors responded, and a three in front of Cleveland’s bench cut the deficit to five points with 25 seconds left, but a pair of Korver free throws sealed the Raptors’ fate.
The ACC crowd cheered as the team walked off the floor.
The Raptors shot 47 per cent on the night, and, after connecting on just two three-pointers in Game 3, went 10-of-29 from long range. The Cavs were 16-of-41 from the three-point line. The Raptors also coughed up 17 points on 13 turnovers.
DeRozan, who was coming off a career playoff high 37 points, went down in a heap in the second quarter after taking a knee to the groin from Iman Shumpert. Lowry, in a black suit jacket, walked gingerly across the court to help up his injured teammate. Shumpert received a technical, and the ACC crowd groaned in unison when the replay was shown on the Jumbotron.
Now the Raptors head into an uncertain off-season, with questions about the future of coach Dwane Casey and Lowry, who plans to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent.
Ibaka’s three-pointer with 4:05 left in the first quarter â€” Toronto’s third three of the game â€” had the Raptors up by 11, but James responded with a three to spark a 13-2 Cavs run, and the first quarter ended all tied up at 28-28.
Korver came on in the second, and instantly spelled trouble for Toronto. His fourth three of the quarter gave the Cavs a 14-point lead just under a minute before halftime, and Cleveland had a 61-49 advantage at the break.
A three by James gave the Cavs a 16-point lead at 10:05 of the third, but threes by Joseph, Ibaka, and Powell sparked a Raptors rally that saw them twice pull within five points late in the third.
The Cavs won the first three games 116-105, 125-103, and 115-94.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press