CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving isn’t the only Cavaliers guard with killer instinct on the court.
When the game’s on the line, Dion Waiters wants the spotlight — and the ball.
“I live for that,” the rookie said.
Waiters scored 23 points, his last two coming on a crucial jumper with 1:43 left, Shaun Livingston added 15 and Cleveland overcame a horrendous start to win its second straight game without an injured Irving, 103-92 over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.
The Cavs made only one of their first 15 shots, but recovered and finished February at 7-5, their first winning month since March 2010, when LeBron James was still around. Tristan Thompson scored 14, Wayne Ellington added 13 and Luke Walton had seven rebounds and seven assists for Cleveland, which closed with a 10-2 run.
Usually, Irving’s the one the Cavs turn to in the closing minutes, when every dribble and every possession are important. But with their All-Star guard slowed or sidelined with a hyperextended right knee, the Cavs have turned to Waiters, who scored 25 in Tuesday’s win at Chicago and has 71 points in his past three games.
“As a kid, you see a lot of guys like Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, who live for those moments,” Waiters said. “You tell yourself you’re going to be in that position one day. I’m just blessed to be in that position.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 34 and Rudy Gay had 24 for the Raptors. Toronto climbed back from an 11-point deficit and pulled within three at 93-90 when Waiters calmly dropped a clutch 15-foot jumper — the kind of shot Irving has made a habit of taking and making in his two seasons as a pro.
Thompson, another of the young-and-improving Cavs, added eight rebounds and made all six free throws.
After trailing by 11, the Raptors got within 73-71 on DeRozan’s jumper.
But Thompson scored six straight points inside and the Cavs reeled off seven consecutive to end the third. Cleveland made its first 20 free throws before Waiters split a pair with 1.7 seconds left, giving Cleveland an 80-71 lead entering the fourth. A 6-0 burst pushed Cleveland’s lead to 86-71, but the Raptors, fighting to stay in the playoff race, weren’t finished.
Gay’s dunk made it 93-90, but Waiters showed no fear in stepping up and dropping his big jumper. On Cleveland’s next possession, Livingston fired a no-look pass to Alonzo Gee for a dunk, and after DeRozan scored, the Cavs put the game away by making their free throws down the stretch.
The win was another sign of growth in the Cavs, who went 3-12 in November and 3-13 in December.
“We’re growing every game,” Waiters said.
The Raptors lost for the first time in four road games since acquiring Gay in a trade from Memphis. It’s been a difficult transition for the forward, leaving a contending team to one with slim chances to make the postseason.
“Winning fixes everything,” Gay said. “This is still new to me. That’s why I get so frustrated when things happen out there. I’m still trying to figure things out. It’s definitely not easy losing. I’m not here to lose. I don’t think anybody else is here to lose.”
The Cavs were beyond awful in the opening minutes, shooting (6.7 percent) from the field and allowing the Raptors to run out to an early 21-7 lead.
Gay dropped a 3-pointer during a 16-2 run for Toronto, and in the initial moments of a timeout, Cleveland coach Byron Scott looked at his players as if to say, “`Hey, guys, put the ball in the hoop.'”
Waiters said the Cavs knew they had to get things turned around quickly.
“I was like, `We gotta pick it up. We gotta do something. We can’t play great against the Bulls and do this,'” he said. “At halftime, we came back and talked, found out what we were doing wrong and came out and executed.”
Cleveland’s players finally began finding their range and used an 11-4 spurt to pull within 25-20 heading into the second quarter. Considering their atrocious start, it was incredible the Cavs weren’t further down. They heated up in the second quarter, shooting 71.4 percent (15 of 21) and outscoring the Raptors 37-23.
“The second quarter killed us,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “You give up a 37-point quarter and what we’re playing for and what’s at stake, that’s too many points.
Cleveland’s bench outscored Toronto’s 39-8.
“We can’t play our starters 48 minutes,” Casey said. “I wish we could. The guys coming off the bench have to be ready to play.” NOTES: Toronto dropped six games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. … Former Cavs majority owner Gordon Gund visited with current owner Dan Gilbert and former center Zydrunas Ilgauskas before the game outside Cleveland’s locker room. Gund, who is blind, is in Cleveland for meetings for a foundation that raises money and awareness to fight diseases that cause blindness. “We’re now delivering treatments and cures,” Gund said. “That’s the major reason I sold it (the team) when I did. I wanted to see it through. That’s my passion now.” … Cavs G Daniel Gibson was active after missing three games to attend to a personal matter. He did not play on his 27th birthday.