CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers get a pardon for forgetting how to play with a gigantic lead, but they’ve used all their mulligans when it comes to botched inbounds plays.
In the end, however, Cleveland overcame both Tuesday to hold on for a 102-100 win over the Toronto Raptors at Quicken Loans Arena.
“That’s a game, earlier in the season, we might have lost,” coach Mike Brown said.
Up 21 in the third period, the Cavs (28-44) fell behind by a point midway through the fourth before rallying to go back ahead. They then committed yet another crucial error on an inbounds attempt, only to have Toronto (39-31) quickly return the favor.
The Cavs were up 102-100, in possession of the ball and called time with 7.8 seconds to go. Inbounding from the sideline, Luol Deng couldn’t find anyone open — Brown said the play would have worked, but someone went the wrong way — and called a 20-second timeout.
On Cleveland’s second attempt, a new inbounder, Anderson Varejao, threw the ball over the head of Luol Deng, who appeared to be held by DeMar DeRozan, and out of bounds along the baseline.
“It’s a bad feeling,” Varejao said.
The Cavs survived when, after a timeout, Toronto’s Greivis Vasquez lost his balance after getting into the lane and, while falling down, threw the ball right to Deng.
“We didn’t execute the play,” said Cleveland guard Dion Waiters, who had 24 points and seven assists, “but we came down and got a stop right back.”
It was the fourth time this season the Cavs failed on a crucial inbounds play, but they lived through it this time.
“That’s the first time in a while we’ve had a hard time getting the ball inbounds,” Brown maintained.
“It was a tough pass in that situation, especially with (DeRozan) having his arm around Luol’s waist.”
In pulling within 4½ games of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and ending a season-high five-game losing streak at The Q, the Cavs got a lot of solid performances from a lot of people while shooting .514 from the floor (36-for-70).
Deng, in just his second game back from a sprained ankle, looked like the Deng of old while finishing with 19 points, six rebounds and seven assists in 40 minutes.
“Luol was great for us,” Brown said. “He was very efficient.”
Tristan Thompson was just as good, putting up 15 points on 3-for-4 shooting from the field and 9-for-10 at the line while adding 13 rebounds.
“When he caught the ball at the basket, he didn’t waste any time,” Brown said. “He went straight to dunk it.”
Jarrett Jack added 15 points, five rebounds and five assists, Varejao had 11 points and eight boards and Spencer Hawes had 11 points and seven rebounds.
“They just kept trying to do what we asked and kept trying to defend,” Brown said. “The energy defensively at the end was pretty good.”
Toronto, which outscored the Cavs 42-12 from behind the arc but shot just .398 from the field (35-for-88), saw 22.8-point scorer DeRozan get held to 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting.
Point guard Kyle Lowry had 22 points, five rebounds and 10 assists and Terrence Ross and Vasquez had 16 points apiece, but the Raptors fell behind Chicago in the battle for the third seed in the East playoffs after failing to get off a shot on their last possession.
“It was a bad play for me,” Vasquez said. “It was me going to my weak (left) hand and I lost my balance and stepped kind of weird. I turned the ball over. I take responsibility and am not running away. I’m a man. I wish I can be in that position again.”
The Cavs were phenomenal early, leading by as many as 18 before settling for a 59-45 lead at intermission. They went up 21 with 8:11 left in the third period and were still up 18 with 4½ minutes left in the quarter, but the Raptors went on a 15-2 run.
That spurt extended to 32-13 on a Vasquez three with 6:45 left, putting Toronto up 95-94, but the Cavs regrouped and pulled out a win despite the fact Waiters had two points, went 0-for-4 from the field and didn’t have an assist while playing 11:52 of the fourth quarter.
The key for Cleveland was not going into panic mode once it lost the big lead.
“That was the biggest thing — keeping the composure,” Waiters said.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.