CLEVELAND — With two-and-a-half minutes to go in the first half Thursday night, Toronto’s all-star guard Kyle Lowry made a hasty exit to the locker-room.
He’d just missed a pair of three-pointers, and wanted to "decompress" for the second half.
Turned out, the second half was too late. It would be game over for Toronto by then.
The Raptors dropped a 108-89 decision in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference final debut.
With the game tied at 46-46, a woeful three-minute stretch late in the second quarter proved lethal, and now the Raptors head back home facing the seemingly impossible task of digging out of a 2-0 hole against the hottest team in the playoffs.
"What’s the old saying? The series doesn’t start until you lose at home?" coach Dwane Casey said, hopefully. "The first game was ugly, tonight was not pretty. But still we’re not quitting."
The TV cameras followed Lowry as he headed for the locker-room "to relax my body, relax my mind, knowing we had a chance …I wanted to get myself going, and get my teammates going and get the team going. It was nothing more than just decompress, breathe and get back out."
Lowry, who was so solid down the stretch of the semifinal series against Miami, had a rough shooting night en route to just 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
"I got a game on Saturday, to turn it around and be more effective, and I will be more effective on Saturday," Lowry vowed.
Cleveland’s mountain of a man LeBron James had a triple double with 23 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds, and passed Shaquille O’Neal for fourth on the all-time post-season scoring list.
DeMar DeRozan topped Toronto with 22 points, while Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph and James Johnson chipped in with 11 points apiece.
Two night’s after a humiliating 115-84 loss in Game 1, Casey said the Raptors would have to "out-work and out-scrap" the Cavaliers. They did for the better part of a first half that saw the lead change hands 11 times.
But over the final 3:25 of the first half, the Raptors let the game slip from their grasp. They chucked up nine misses and fell behind by 14, and would never make up that ground again.
Casey got his back up when a reporter in the post-game news conference suggested his team looks defeated.
"I don’t see that," Casey shot back. "I think they’re hurt because they lost the game. If you don’t look like you’re upset that you’re getting beat, I don’t think that means you’re defeated, unless you’re mind readers or something.
"I don’t think our guys have quit. I refuse to believe that."
Cleveland couldn’t miss down the stretch and when James threaded a bounce pass to Channing Frye with six minutes to play, the Cavs led by 18. A J.R. Smith three-pointer two minutes later had the home team up by 19, sending fans headed to the exits to beat the traffic.
The Raptors allowed the Cavs to shoot 50 per cent on the night, and Cleveland went to the free throw line a whopping 37 times compared to Toronto’s 18.
The post-season has been a roller-coaster for Lowry, who seemed to have refound his all-star form late in the Miami series. But he didn’t make a three-pointer in Game 1 against Cleveland, and went 1-for-8 from long distance in Game 2.
DeMarre Carroll said they’re sticking behind "the head of our team."
"We still believe in him… (and) it’s not all on one person. He’s very confident. He’s just missing some shots, the same shots he hit in the season. I don’t think he’s struggling mentally. I believe once he gets back home he’ll knock down those shots."
It was the first time the Raptors had lost back-to-back games in these playoffs, and the first time since mid-March.
DeRozan is hopeful that being back home for Saturday’s Game 3 can provide a spark.
"We’ve got to go home and protect home court, we’ve played well at home when we get the energy of the crowd behind us," DeRozan said.
While the Raptors won two-of-three games versus Cleveland in the regular season, the Cavaliers are the overwhelming favourites to win a series that Charles Barkley described as "guppies versus sharks."
The Quicken Loans Arena, painted in gold "All In" T-shirts, included New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and six-time NBA MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Cavaliers raced out to an eight-point lead and it looked like the Raptors were in for another long night, but a three by Ross capped a 9-0 run that put Toronto in the lead. Cleveland led 30-28 to end the first quarter.
The wheels fell off midway through the second, as the Cavs ended the quarter on a 20-5 run. Cleveland led 62-48 at halftime.
Game 3 is Saturday while Game 4 is Monday at Air Canada Centre.