CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers are far more focused on how they’ll finish. They are not complaining about their start, though.
With Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson sitting courtside, LeBron James came up one rebound shy of a triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 24 points to lead Cleveland to a 121-117 win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, making the Cavs 9-1 to match their best start after 10 games.
James had 28 points and 14 assists as the Cavs improved to 2-0 this season against the Raptors, the team they beat in last season’s Eastern Conference finals and the one they could meet there again in 2017.
The Cavs last went 9-1 in 1976-77.
“I don’t really pay attention to the records,” said James. “But I do pay attention to the teams we’re playing, and what they bring to the table.”
The Raptors bring a lot, and are one of the only teams in the East capable of going to toe-to-toe with the defending NBA champions. However, Toronto came up short against Cleveland just as it did in last year’s playoffs.
“I’m not encouraged by any loss,” said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who finished with 28 points and nine assists. “We want to win every single game. Every time we touch the floor we want to win games.”
Channing Frye’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 59 seconds left put the Cavs up by one. Cleveland then buckled down on defense, holding the Raptors scoreless until letting Lowry make a layup with 2.8 seconds left.
Kevin Love added 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavs, who have already had their share of tight games.
“We’re one of the teams at the top that’s going to get every team’s best shot,” Love said. “That’s a team we have history with. They’re well-coached. They know how to play and you saw them fight back tonight. That’s the kind of tension in playing those type of teams early that’s going to be good for us. We’ve had certain lapses in our first 10 games that we need to clean up. But we’re getting teams’ best shots home or away and we’ll be a better team for it.”
DeMar DeRozan added 26 for the Raptors, who complained about fouls called against Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas in the final two minutes and a possible goaltending violation against the Cavs that wasn’t called in the closing seconds. Toronto came in 5-0 in games where Lowry and DeRozan combined for more than 50 points.
Lowry was also whistled for a technical in the final two minutes.
“The ball bounced of my foot,” Lowry said. “I wasn’t trying to slam it. I dribbled the ball and it bounced of my foot. It’s not like it went far. Coach (Dwane Casey) caught the ball. Whatever, keep my money.”
The Cavs made 13 3-pointers and have dropped at least 10 in all 10 games, extending their league record to start a season.
Raptors: With so many shooters, and James’ passing ability, the Cavs can stress defenses to the max. “They have that extra point guard on the floor in LeBron,” Casey said. “He finds people the normal human being doesn’t see.”
Cavaliers: Coach Tyronn Lue is hopeful J.R. Smith can return for Wednesday’s game at Indiana. Smith needs three 3-pointers to pass Dirk Nowitzki for 15th place on the career list. … G/F Mike Dunleavy is off to a rough start in his first season with Cleveland. Acquired from Chicago over the summer, Dunleavy is shooting just 29 percent (8 of28) on 3-pointers. “We’re not worried about Mike,” Lue said. “He’s going to find his way.”
On the bench
The Raptors played without starting forward DeMarre Carroll, who was given the night off to rest his surgically repaired knee. He also sat out Saturday’s game against New York as he continues to recover from right knee surgery.
Smith missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle, leaving Cleveland without one of its top outside threats and defenders.
On consecutive nights, the Raptors are taking on the league’s top two teams in Cleveland and Golden State, last season’s finals participants.
“It should be fun,” Casey said. “It should be exciting for our players to go against the champion and the runner-up from last year. It’s not going to make or break our season. It will help our young guys to get the experience against the two best teams and the two best players in the league this early in the season.”
Brooklyn is the only other team that will play the Cavs and Warriors on consecutive nights (Dec. 22-23).
Raptors: Host Golden State on Wednesday.
Cavaliers: Play at Indiana on Wednesday.