CLEVELAND -- The calls were questionable at best, the offense was suspect and the losses are beginning to mount again. Two nights after Luol Deng stressed the importance of ending losing streaks before they start mounting, the Cleveland Cavaliers were unable to do so in a 99-93 loss Tuesday to the Toronto Raptors.
It was their third consecutive loss, but they didn't lose any ground on the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, who also lost Tuesday. The Cavs trailed by 14 early, held a late lead and were unable to hold on.
Questionable calls from the officiating crew didn't help.
Tyler Zeller was flattened trying to catch a pass in the lane from Spencer Hawes with the Cavs down by 3 in the game's final minute. No foul was called, forcing the Cavs to foul and send the Raptors to the free-throw line. Kyrie Irving collided with Amir Johnson at the rim on the Cavs' ensuing possession, but again no foul was called even though Johnson had his back turned on the play and made no attempt on the ball.
Those weren't the only two - Zeller and Irving were both hit with questionable charge calls late. The officials even reviewed one on Irving and upheld it. It's never chic to blame the officiating for a loss, but it certainly didn't help the Cavs on Tuesday.
"It's part of the game," Irving said. "The refs are going to make the call, that's their job. On to the next game."
Irving had 25 points and nine assists, but went scoreless in the final eight minutes and missed his final five shots. The Cavs rallied from a 14-point deficit in the first half and held a slim 89-87 lead with 3:11 left, but Zeller's dunk with 4:33 left was the Cavs' final basket until the game's last 10 seconds, when the outcome was already decided.
Irving played the entire second half. His only break came at the end of the first quarter and start of the second, but the Cavs didn't score at all while he was out of the game. It came in the midst of the Cavs missing 14 consecutive shots, allowing the Raptors to build a 34-20 lead amid boos from the home crowd and fears of an inevitable blowout.
"We had a little trouble scoring and he was in a little bit of a groove," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said of Irving playing the whole second half. "I wanted to leave him on the floor to see if he could help generate some easy buckets."
The Raptors went 5 1/2 minutes without a basket from the end of the second quarter to the start of the third, allowing the Cavs to turn a 47-34 deficit into a 48-47 lead early in the third quarter.
Hawes had 15 points and seven rebounds in his first start, while Zeller had eight points and six rebounds off the bench. Brown played the two big men together for much of the fourth quarter.
The Cavs' bench produced little in the first half, leaving Brown to rely on his starters. Zeller and Matthew Dellavedova provided more of a lift in the second half.
Deng, however, continues to struggle. He had eight points, nine rebounds and five assists, but shot 3-for-14 and missed all five of his 3-pointers. He is 0-for-7 shooting 3s in the Cavs' last two games.
DeMar DeRozan had 33 points for the Raptors and Kyle Lowry had 13 points and nine assists. The Raptors have now beaten the Cavs twice in the past five days as the Cavs' playoff hopes took another hit.
It won't get any easier Wednesday when the Cavs play at the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. They'll have to do it again without Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles. None of the three injured players were expected to make the trip to Oklahoma City for the game.
"Big game (Wednesday)," Irving said. "We have to dust ourselves off and get ready for (it)."