— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 22, 2016
TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors had counted on the home crowd to give them a boost.
Bismack Biyombo made absolute sure they did.
The Congolese big man grabbed 26 rebounds – a franchise record for the playoffs – to lift the Raptors 99-84 over Cleveland as the NBA Eastern Conference final moved to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, handing the Cavaliers their first loss of the post-season.
“It was amazing, man,” DeMar DeRozan marvelled of Biyombo’s night. “Protecting the rim. He was big-time tonight. Without him, we probably wouldn’t get this win.”
DeRozan scored 32 points, while Cory Joseph had 14, and DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson finished with 10 apiece.
But the brick wall that is Biyombo, who wagged a finger like Dikembe Mutombo on his four blocked shots, was the Raptors’ motor, thriving on the energy of the Air Canada Centre crowd and giving it back to them in spades.
“He’s just kind of the spirit of our team,” coach Dwane Casey said.
When the 23-year-old scored three consecutive baskets during a key late stretch for Toronto, Biyombo made like Usain Bolt in celebration. He waved his massive arms to get the crowd cheering.
They needed little prompting.
“It felt like (Biyombo) got every rebound out there, the energy he brings is unbelievable,” Joseph said.
LeBron James scored 24 points to top the Cavs, who went 10-0 to open the post-season, two shy of San Antonio’s NBA record set in 1999.
The Raptors are considered big underdogs against the Cavs, they’d lost their two opening games in Cleveland by a combined 50 points, and had been all but written off.
But back in front of an ACC crowd of 20,207 fans – including country singer Shania Twain and retired NFL star Terrell Owens – Toronto shrugged off the fatigue of what’s been a gruelling post-season schedule and painstakingly put together an 18-point lead by the second quarter. A three-point buzzer-beater by Joseph sent them into the fourth with an 80-70 advantage.
The Raptors missed eight straight shots in the middle of an ugly fourth quarter to allow the Cavs to pull within eight points, but Biyombo’s three straight buckets had them back up by 14 with 3:38 to play.
With the Air Canada Centre crowd on its feet as the clock ticked down, Lowry drilled a three with a minute on the clock that was bonus points on a game that was all but over.
Biyombo said he “got the license” to use the finger wag from Mutombo.
“He was telling me how I haven’t given you permission to use my finger yet,” Biyombo said, flashing a wide smile. “But I love him. He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations about him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.
“Of course once he gave me permission to use his finger wag, then I guess I just want to leave his legacy and make sure that I show him some love as my big brother.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn’t bothered by Biyombo’s wag.
“They were kicking our butts, so he should have the right to wave his finger until we do something about it,” Lue said.
The Raptors’ defence held the Cavs to 35 per cent shooting, while shooting 46 per cent themselves. They dominated the boards 54-40, and outscored the Cavs 36-20 in the paint.
James was the subject of some tense – and entertaining – moments late in the first half, when a skirmish broke out between Biyombo, Joseph and Tristan Thompson. Thompson inadvertently smacked James with a flailing elbow and the four-time NBA MVP hit the deck hard. Perhaps a bit too hard. Twitter lit up with Academy Award memes.
“I’m not trying to sell a call,” James said, when asked about the incident. “I got hit with an elbow. I didn’t know from my own teammate. So no – sell a call for what? That’s it. I was going to say something else to you, but I’m going to leave it alone.”
Some 2,500 fans watched the game on the giant screen in “Jurassic Park,” and the lineup to get in before tipoff wrapped around the outside of the ACC.
Game 4 is Monday in Toronto, while Game 5 is Wednesday in Cleveland.
DeRozan and Lowry combined for 20 points to put the Raptors up 27-24 to end the first quarter – the first quarter in the series they’d outscored the Cavaliers.
Despite Lowry sitting out much of the second in foul trouble, the Raptors went on a 16-2 run and a finger roll from Patrick Patterson gave them an 18-point lead 1:22 before halftime. They went into the break up 60-47.