Leonard leads Raptors to eighth straight win
CLEVELAND — Down an all-star guard, there was no need for the Toronto Raptors to panic.
Not against one of the National Basketball Association’s worst teams, and not with Kawhi Leonard around.
Leonard scored 34 points, Fred VanVleet added 15 and Toronto extended its winning streak to eight games despite missing Kyle Lowry with a 106-95 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
Danny Green and Pascal Siakam added 15 apiece as the Raptors improved the league’s best record to 20-4, reaching the 20-win mark quicker than at any time in their history. Toronto also is a league-best 10-2 on the road.
Lowry missed his first game this season with an unspecified back injury.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse didn’t provide any details about Lowry’s back other than to say it flared up earlier in the day.
Leonard did learn until just before tip-off that Lowry, the league’s assist leader, wouldn’t play.
“I told him he should have let me know earlier because I would have slept 20 more minutes,” Leonard joked. “I needed that energy tonight.”
VanVleet started in place of Lowry, ran Toronto’s offence and organized the Raptors defensively. He also made the game’s biggest shot, dropping a back-breaking three-pointer with 2:08 left to put Toronto up 10.
VanVleet joked that he was the only one happy Lowry didn’t dress.
“I didn’t miss him at all,” he said, chuckling. “Any time I can get extra minutes, and extra shots up, I’m happy.”
Jordan Clarkson scored 18 points and Tristan Thompson had 18 points with 19 rebounds for the Cavs. They hung around but lost their fourth in a row and dropped to 4-18.
Cleveland, which sustained its worst loss of the season on Friday in Boston, did get healthier as starting guard George Hill returned after missing 11 games with a sprained right shoulder. Hill scored eight points in 19 minutes.
Toronto was making its first visit to Quicken Loans Arena since May, when the Raptors were swept in four games by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Of course that Raptors team didn’t have Leonard, who came over in a July trade from San Antonio for DeMar DeRozan and has given Toronto fans hope that this might finally be the year.
“It’s not just Kawhi that makes them different,” Hill said.
“You get another amazing defender in Danny Green, a laser three-point shooter in him and they got experience now.
“Losing a guy like DeMar is tough, but at the same time, you replace him with a guy of the same calibre like Kawhi, but also adding a guy like Danny, who is playoff-tested, championship proven, that just makes them an overall better team.”
Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard drives to the basket against Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson on Saturday.