By Tom Withers | Associated Press
CLEVELAND -- The Raptors aren’t officially in the NBA playoffs. They don’t look ready for them, either.
Dion Waiters scored 24 points, Luol Deng added 19 and the Cleveland Cavaliers prevented Toronto from getting closer to a postseason spot with a 102-100 win over the sloppy Raptors on Tuesday night.
Toronto fell behind by 21 points in the third quarter, and then battled back to take a 95-94 lead. But the Raptors fell apart in the final minutes.
With their fourth loss in six games, the Raptors dropped one-half game behind Chicago for the No. 3 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We gotta get back to who we are,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in disgust. “It’s easy to get up for OKC, Miami and Indiana, but the other teams are playing for something too, which is pride. That can be even more dangerous.”
Despite playing without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed his fifth straight game with a strained biceps tendon, the Cavs were able to hold on and snap a five-game losing streak at home.
“It was a good win by our guys,” coach Mike Brown said. “That’s a playoff team. They were playing good basketball. In a game like that, maybe earlier in the season we might have lost, especially coming down the stretch when a team makes a run against us. Our guys found a way to win.”
Kyle Lowry scored 22 and Terrence Ross had 16 for the Raptors, who had a chance to tie it in the final seconds but guard Greivis Vasquez lost his footing and committed a turnover with 1.9 seconds left.
“I was trying to spin and I lost my balance,” Vasquez said. “It was just a bad play for me. It was me going to my weak hand and I lost my balance, stepped kind of weird. I turned the ball over. I’ll take responsibility. I’m not going to run away. I’m a man. I wish I could be in that position again so we have another opportunity tomorrow (at Boston).”
Toronto took a 95-94 lead on Vasquez’s 3-pointer with 6:45 remaining, but the Raptors went just 1 of 9 from the floor and scored five points the rest of the way.
Tristan Thompson added 15 points and 13 rebounds and Jarret Jack had 13 points for Cleveland, which kept its faint playoff hopes alive. The Cavs trail idle Atlanta by 4 1/2 games for the No. 8 playoff slot.
The Raptors may be closing in on their first postseason appearance since 2008, but the Atlantic Division leaders looked out of sorts at both ends. They fought back from a big deficit, but fell apart with the game on the line.
Toronto missed three free throws in the final 4:26, but still had a chance to force overtime or possibly steal their 40th win after forcing a Cleveland turnover on an errant inbounds pass with 7.8 seconds to go.
But Vasquez, who finished with 16 points, drove the left side and slipped about 10 feet from the basket. As he fell, Vasquez flung the ball in desperation and it was intercepted on the right side by Deng. Vasquez remained on the floor for a few seconds grabbing his ankle before he limped off the court.
“It was a handoff to Greivis to turn the corner,” Casey said. “I thought he turned it pretty well and his ankle went out on him. But one play was not when we lost that game. The game was decided with the way we played in the first quarter.”
However, Toronto didn’t execute when it needed to and lost to a Cleveland team playing for nothing more than pride.
At least the Cavs overcame their own mistakes, something they’ve rarely done during this disappointing season.
“We just stayed with it,” Waiters said. “We didn’t get rattled and made plays when we needed to.”
Cleveland’s offense was clicking early on. The Cavs recorded assists on eight of their first 10 buckets, opened a 14-point lead in the first quarter and pushed their advantage to 18 in the second.
Toronto made three 3-pointers — the Raptors had eight 3s in the first half — in a span of 1:27 to climb within 49-40, but Cleveland regrouped and led 59-45 at halftime.
NOTES: The Cavs are 12-11 since Feb. 7. ... Toronto was just 16 of 26 from the line. ... Irving rode a stationary bike on the side as the Cavs went through their morning shootaround. Afterward, Irving looked good doing some shooting drills. Brown said Irving is “closer” to returning, but it’s not guaranteed the third-year pro will play again this season. ... Raptors F Patrick Patterson (right ulnar collateral sprain) missed his 10th consecutive game. He was cleared to resume contact practices Monday.