With a second to play in the third quarter and a long inbounds pass sailing toward Serge Ibaka, the Raptors big man tangled arms with Marquese Chriss and tumbled to the floor.
Chriss then said something Ibaka didn’t like, prompting Ibaka to hop up from the floor and wrap his hands around Chriss’ neck. Wrestling ensued — as did big, sloppy punches. Chriss connected with Ibaka’s shoulder and grazed his chin. Ibaka’s punch whistled past Chriss’ head without making contact.
The judges would have scored this one a draw, and each man was summarily ejected. But the real winner was Ibaka, who at least earned an early exit from an ugly Raptors performance that ended in a lopsided 126-101 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And it got uglier. Early in the fourth quarter, Kyle Lowry had a mid-air collision and awkward landing, and got up limping. He headed to the locker room minutes later.
Heading into Monday’s game, the numbers suggested the Raptors would win handily. They entered as the second-best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference with a 48-19 record. Cleveland, meanwhile, was second-last with 15 wins and 50 losses. Toronto was also 8-2 in the second half of back-to-back games this season, and had pencilled Kawhi Leonard back into the starting lineup.
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But then came the tipoff, after that the pre-game numbers couldn’t tell us much. Cleveland outscored the Raptors in all four quarters, putting up 34 points in the second before outscoring the Raptors 32-22 in the third.
Leonard led the Raptors in points (25) and rebounds (nine), while fellow all-star Lowry contributed 14 points and six assists. Ibaka added eight points and seven rebounds before his ejection.
- Where was the defence? The Cavs entered the night ranked 29th in shooting percentage (.441) and scoring (103.7 points per game). With standout defender Leonard returning to the lineup, the Raptors figured to keep the home team’s scoring down. Didn’t happen. Cleveland put up 59 first-half points on 20 of 53 shooting. They also converted 14 of 15 first-half free throws, while the Raptors made just four of eight shots from the foul line.
- Turn it over: Sunday night in Miami, the Raptors outclassed the Heat by 24 points, but the lopsided scoreline obscured a troubling stat: turnovers. The Raptors committed 21 of them. In Cleveland, they continued that trend early, turning the ball over eight times in the first quarter alone. They trimmed their turnover rate in the second, reached halftime with 11 turnovers, and finished the game with 20.
- Canadian content: The presence of the NBA’s only Canadian team attracted plenty of north-of-the-border attention to Quicken Loans Arena, and the TV broadcast showed the stands dotted with fans in Raptors jerseys. But the home team also offered plenty for Canadian fans. Mississauga’s Nik Stauskas played 24 minutes for the Cavs, scoring eight points with six rebounds. Longtime Cav and LeBron James running buddy Tristan Thompson remains on the roster, but didn’t dress. He’s listed as day-to-day with a foot injury.
- Up next: Thursday vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8 p.m.
Morgan Campbell is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MorganPCampbell