If Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet thought they were going to intimidate Collin Sexton, they poked the wrong “Young Bull.”
A jawing session at the end of the first half that required the Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors to be forcibly separated and resulted in double technical fouls on Powell and Sexton only served to ignite the Cavaliers’ third-year guard.
Sunday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Sexton poured in 23 of his game-high 36 points in the second half, 14 in the third quarter, as the Cavs handed the Raptors their eighth consecutive loss, 116-105.
“You guys know Collin. You see him on the court. He’s always locked in,” Cavs center Jarrett Allen said. “But saw a different fire in his eyes. A different fire to go at Norman Powell, to go at VanVleet, to go at all of them. Just prove that he’s not one to be messed with.”
That fire wasn’t burning only in Sexton.
Facing a team with what coach J.B. Bickerstaff called “championship DNA,” the Cavs were the aggressors in the second half. They outscored the Raptors 32-18 in the third quarter. They steadied themselves after the Raptors cut a 22-point fourth-quarter deficit to six. They survived 27 turnovers that led to 26 points.
The Cavs saw their leading scorer take some verbal jabs, and they punched back.
That in itself felt like a step forward, especially since the Raptors have seven players who were members of the 2019 NBA title team and reached the conference semifinals last season.
“If you just take basketball out of the situation, I think it was a step for maturity,” Allen said on Zoom. “It was a step that we were going to hold our ground and go out there and play basketball and show toughness. It was just a step for us growing as people and players.”
Bickerstaff downplayed the pre-halftime dustup as “two guys playing basketball.”
“It’s competition. Norman Powell’s a great competitor, Collin’s a great competitor, so they just got into it, words were exchanged and we moved on,” Bickerstaff said.
But Bickerstaff talked up how the Cavs handled what happened.
“The little spark before the half, when you have those incidents you have to be prepared to back it up,” he said. “We discussed it at halftime and we told him and the group that a team that’s as competitive as the Raptors are and what they’ve been through and all the things they’ve accomplished, you’ve got to be prepared to play coming out of the gate because they’re going to come out swinging and we had to be ready.
“Collin took that challenge and he carried us in the third quarter.”
The Cavs (16-26) have lost five of their last seven games, the Raptors (17-25), based in Tampa because of Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions, have dropped 10 of their last 11, five of those coming when several players were out due to health and safety protocols.
Both teams were desperate for a victory, with the Raptors’ slide currently leaving them out of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament for seeds 7-10. (The Raptors stood 11th after Sunday’s action, the Cavs 12th.)
It was understandable why tempers flared, but surprising which team handled it better.
Asked to explain what happened, Sexton said, “Norman Powell tried to set like a screen or whatnot, I got over. They were jawing earlier when I was at the free-throw line, said some stuff back. I don’t back down.”
Sexton liked how the Cavs summoned the will Bickerstaff asked them to show.
“Coach J.B. was like, ‘Alright, now you woke them up, now what are you going to do?’” Sexton said. “As a team, we responded pretty well and we just continue to fight. We knew they are a playoff team and we know what they’re capable of, especially when one of the players is high intensity right then.
“We knew they were gonna come out and try to be physical and just pretty much try to punk guys a little bit.”
Allen was proud of how the Cavs handled the challenge. The Raptors missed their first nine shots in the third quarter and the Cavs went on a 12-0 run, Sexton contributing seven, to take a 71-57 lead.
“I was talking about just the … I wouldn’t say scuffle, we don’t scuffle anymore in the NBA. Just going at each other. It could have went either way,” Allen said. “They could have came out and punched us. We could have came out and punched them. We were the aggressors in the second half. That was just the message I relayed to [Sexton] — we didn’t back down for a second and he didn’t back down for a second, especially.”
Sexton said the incident “definitely woke me up a little bit.”
“I always pretty much play with a chip on my shoulder. So that just elevated me a little bit,” he said.
In the third quarter, Sexton hit 6-of-7 shots, 2-of-3 from long range. In the second half, he went 8-of-13 and 4-for-6. But Cavs forward Dean Wade said Sexton’s look of determination wasn’t unusual.
“There’s always that aggression in Collin’s eyes, always,” Wade said. “Every time he steps on the floor he’s got that chip on his shoulder. He’s 100 miles an hour, he’s going to attack every possession.
“Whatever happened right before half, I think he came out with an even bigger chip on his shoulder. But he didn’t take it too far where he was being too aggressive and making mistakes. He was just being aggressive, getting everyone on the ball and scoring when he could. It was awesome.
“He was motivated, to say the least. I think it helped us more than it helped them, just the way he came out.”
Sexton turned in his fifth 30-point game of the season. With the Cavs winning two of their last three games, Sexton has averaged 31.3 points, four assists and shot 51% in that span.
Elevated from a two-way contract this season, Wade doesn’t have the experience to see how the Cavs grew on Sunday. But Wade believed they proved something.
“I think what it says about us is, I mean, we’re a good team,” Wade said. “Sometimes we don’t put it all together and we make a few too many mistakes here and there. But overall, when we play like we’re supposed to, play together, and just having fun, I mean, we’re a good team. And I think tonight showed that.”
Cook signing another 10-day deal
The Cavs will sign guard Quinn Cook to another 10-day contract, a league source confirmed.
While backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova is expected to make his season debut soon after being sidelined by a concussion and an appendectomy, Cook can provide depth until Dellavedova is ready.
In four games, Cook has averaged 5.0 points and 2.0 rebounds, shooting .381 from the field and .444 from 3-point range.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Cavs at www.beaconjournal.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
Kings at Cavaliers
Time: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Cavaliers at Bulls
Time: 8 p.m. Wednesday