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Raptors beat Cavs 108-105 in season opener

Toronto’s all-star guard Fred VanVleet addressed delighted fans before tip-off at Wednesday’s season opener, telling them: “Let’s have some fun.”

The Raptors made sure they did.

Pascal Siakam had 23 points and 11 rebounds and the Raptors used a furious fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-105 in an entertaining season opener.

“It makes tomorrow a lot better and funner … it’s just a better spirit and energy,” VanVleet said of winning Game 1. “It’s hard to win in this league and you never want to take them for granted.”

Gary Trent Jr. added 19 points, while O.G. Anunoby had 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, as the Raptors had six players score in double figures. Scottie Barnes and VanVleet finished with 15 apiece, while Precious Achiuwa chipped in with 10.

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Cleveland’s prized newcomer Donovan Mitchell led the Cavs with 31 points.

The Raptors clawed back from an eight-point deficit to start the fourth quarter and when Barnes muscled his way to the hoop and finished with a left-handed layup that coach Nick Nurse called “huge,” flexing a celebratory bicep on his way back up the court, the basket tied the game at 92-92 with about seven minutes to play.

“I was happy with (Barnes’) game,” Nurse said of last season’s rookie of the year. “I thought he competed. That was the main thing, that’s all I’m asking.”

A steal by VanVleet led to a thunderous dunk from Barnes that brought the Scotiabank Centre crowd to its feet and put Toronto up by one with 3:31 to play. Trent’s three-pointer, from in front of Cleveland’s bench, made it a four-point game.

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A pair of free throws from Caris LeVert sliced the difference to a point with 4.5 seconds left on the clock, but on Toronto’s final possession, Barnes spotted a sprinting Achiuwa who sealed the victory with a rim-rattling dunk with 0.7 to play.

“I thought we played both ends like we needed to in the fourth quarter, like we were really digging some things out on defence as well, creating some turnovers, lots of loose balls and things like that,” said Nurse. “And then we got pretty good shots most of the time down.”

The Cavs, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2018, acquired Mitchell in a blockbuster off-season trade with Utah, putting themselves squarely into Eastern Conference contention.

Mitchell called his Cavs debut “tough.”

“We didn’t do a bunch of things that we can control, turnovers,” he said. “That one time we let our guard down, they hit us with a hook in the fourth. It’s hard to recover from that.”

The Raptors made almost no changes to the team that found their groove in the second half of last season en route to 48 wins. They finished fifth in the East and were eliminated by Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.

Wednesday’s season opener came after their longest off-season in five years.

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A 12-0 Raptors run that straddled the first and second quarters put Toronto up 33-22. But the Cavs regained the lead with a 13-0 run capped by a Mitchell jump shot, and had stretched their advantage to 57-51 at halftime.

Rookie Christian Koloko’s first NBA basket was a huge put-back dunk that was part of a Raptors’ run to tie the game late in the third quarter. But the Cavs outscored Toronto 11-3 to the end of the frame, and led 84-76 with one quarter to play.

The Cavs lost Darius Garland in the first half to a left eye injury.

SIDELINED

Montreal’s Khem Birch (knee) and Chris Boucher (hamstring), plus Otto Porter Jr. (hamstring) sat out the game. Porter, who helped Golden State to an NBA championship last season, has yet to play for his new team because of his nagging injury.

ELECTION DAY

The Raptors wore warm-up shirts with “VOTE” across the chest, ahead of the Nov. 8 American midterm elections. The NBA has been a vocal advocate for voters’ rights, with numerous get-out-the-vote initiatives including using arenas as voting centres.

This season the league is shutting down games on Election Day, but all 30 teams will play on Nov. 7, the night before the midterms.

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UP NEXT

The Raptors visit Brooklyn to play the Nets on Friday, then continue a tough early-season schedule with two games at Miami before returning home for a pair of games against Philly.

“I know there is a lot of people saying we have a really hard schedule to start here, and I’m not brushing it off by saying it doesn’t really matter who we play,” Nurse said. “We have to go out and play no matter whether it’s somebody everybody thinks is good or not supposed to be good.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2022.

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