Created on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 Written by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CLEVELAND - Dion Waiters scored 24 points and Luol Deng added 19 as the Cleveland Cavaliers prevented Toronto from getting closer to a playoff spot with a 102-100 win over the Raptors on Tuesday night.
Cleveland Cavaliers' Dion Waiters (3) jumps to the basket between Toronto Raptors' Greivis Vasquez (21) and Chuck Hayes (44) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 25, 2014, in Cleveland. Waiters scored a team-high 24 points for Cleveland's 102-100 win.(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
The Cavs blew a 21-point lead, but made just enough plays down the stretch to snap a five-game losing streak at home.
They did it without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed his fifth straight game with a strained biceps tendon.
Kyle Lowry scored 22 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.
Toronto led 95-94 with 6:45 remaining, but 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 for Cleveland.
The Raptors are closing in on their first postseason appearance since 2008, but the Atlantic Division leaders hardly looked ready.
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 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 blown chance for the Raptors, who came with a slight lead over Chicago for the third playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Vasquez's 3-pointer from the right wing with 6:45 left helped the Raptors, who were down 74-53 in the third, take a 95-94 lead - their first since the opening three minutes.
However, Toronto didn't execute when it needed to and lost to a Cleveland team playing for nothing more than pride.
Leading by 14 at half, the Cavs pushed their lead to 21 midway through the third and appeared poised to put the Raptors away.
However, Toronto reeled off 11 straight points and closed the quarter with an 18-6 run to close to 88-81 entering the fourth.
Although his team is zeroing in on a playoff berth, Raptors coach Dwane Casey warned about complacency.
"We're not good enough to scoreboard watch," Casey said before the game. "We've got to take care of our business at hand. If we don't do that, we're not going to out-talent anybody by just showing up and showing our press clippings. We've got to come out and do all the dirty work, be a desperate team, play that way or we struggle."
The Raptors struggled all right.
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: Irving rode a stationary bike on the side as the Cavs went through their morning shootaround. Afterward, Irving looked good doing some shooting drills. Coach Mike Brown said the All-Star is "closer" to returning, but it's not guaranteed Irving will play again this season. Irving is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Monday, two weeks after he got hurt. ... Raptors F Patrick Patterson (right ulnar collateral sprain) missed his 10th consecutive game. He was cleared to resume contact practices Monday.