CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers’ team slogan of Be The Fight applied Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena — in more ways than one.
Pitted against the second-best team in the league from a record standpoint, the Cavs played one of their best games of the season while dominating the Toronto Raptors 126-101.
Adding to the entertainment value, Cleveland’s Marquese Chriss and Toronto’s Serge Ibaka were ejected after exchanging punches with one second left in the third period.
Neither player — Ibaka was the physical aggressor — talked to the media after the game.
“I don’t condone fighting at all,” Cavs coach Larry Drew said. “If somebody comes after you, you have the right to defend yourself. ... I don’t believe there’s a place in our game for fighting, but in the heat of the moment, things happen.”
Lost in all the fun was the fact the Cavs (17-50) got marquee performances from Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love and Ante Zizic while dropping the Raptors to 48-19 and 2 1⁄2 games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
Sexton finished with 28 points, four rebounds and five assists; Osman made his last four shots after a 2-for-12 start and finished with 19 points, seven boards and seven assists; Zizic had 17 points and seven boards; and Love had 16 points, 18 rebounds and took four charges when he wasn’t leading the celebration on Cleveland’s bench.
Best of all for the Cavs, they won the post-fight fourth quarter 35-24.
“You never want to see that, but the fact we kept our focus and kept our foot on the gas was key,” Love said.
Up four at the half, the Cavs stretched their lead to 69-58 just 2 1/2 minutes into the third period, at which time Sexton already had 21 points.
The Raptors responded with a series of mini-runs, but Cleveland answered each time, first behind a flurry of Love points and then with five straight by Osman to close the quarter, putting the Cavs up 91-77.
With one second remaining in the third, it got crazy when Ibaka fell to the floor after unsuccessfully leaping for a long inbounds pass that went out of bounds.
Chriss stared down at him as he walked by and appeared to say something. Then Ibaka jumped up, grabbed Chriss by the throat and pushed him into the basket stanchion nearest to Cleveland’s bench. Both players got technical fouls and were ejected — Ibaka will be fined and suspended and Chriss likely will be penalized as well — after throwing punches that didn’t appear to land.
“To be honest, I don’t know what happened,” said Drew, who was trying to get the officials’ attention to ensure his team would get the ball back on the opposite baseline for the final second. “The referees said both guys threw punches. If that’s the case, that’s an automatic ejection.”
The Cavs, who led by 10 midway through the second quarter, were up 59-55 at halftime thanks to 13 points from Sexton, 11 points and five rebounds from Zizic, nine points from Brandon Knight and six points and 10 boards from Love.
Toronto, which appeared disinterested at several stages of the first half, had seven turnovers in the first quarter and 11 by intermission.
The Raptors, who got 25 points and nine boards from Kawhi Leonard and 15 points, four boards and three assists from Most Improved Player candidate Pascal Siakam, finished with 20 turnovers on a night when they never managed to sustain anything.
Former All-Star center Marc Gasol had seven rebounds and four assists for Toronto, but just two points on 1-for-6 shooting.
“‘Big Z’ did a great job,” Drew said of Zizic. “Gasol is not an easy guard.”
Toronto All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry was hampered by early foul trouble and finished with 14 points, five boards and six assists on a night when he got outplayed by the 20-year-old Sexton.
“Tonight was as complete a game as I’ve seen Collin play,” Drew said.
Osman was equally good, even when he wasn’t making shots, as all of his rebounds and assists came before he made his last four attempts.
“He did a terrific job of letting the game come to him,” Drew said. “He didn’t force things. He was Cedi Osman tonight.”
Love, who completed his first long outlet pass since missing 50 games with a foot injury, was equally good, especially defensively.
“He completely gives his body up on any type of dribble penetration,” Drew said. “He’s not afraid of contact. ... He makes winning plays.”
It all added up to the Cavs, who also got 14 points from Jordan Clarkson and 12 from Knight, living up to their motto of Be The Fight, especially after the Ibaka-Chriss incident.
“I thought they responded well,” Drew said. “It actually juiced us up a little bit.”