Thursday, January 7, 2016

Irving helps Cavaliers defeat Wizards

In Kyrie Irving's seventh game since breaking his kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers' guard broke the hearts of the Washington Wizards.

LeBron James scored 34 points, but Irving dazzled in the fourth quarter with 19 of his 32 points as Cleveland won their fifth straight game with a 121-115 victory over the Wizards.

After surgery in June, Irving returned to Cleveland's lineup on Dec. 20. He has now moved beyond mere progress and into jaw-dropping territory for the surging Cavaliers (24-9).

"There will be days when he's better and days when he's going to have some effect of the many months he was out," Cavaliers coach David Blatt said, "but that sure didn't look like that tonight."

 James helped stake the Cavaliers to an 18-point lead by hitting all four of his three-pointers less than four minutes into the third quarter.

The Wizards (15-18) countered with their own barrage from beyond the arc, eventually tying the game 95-95 with 10:53 remaining.

Irving dominated from there, scoring the game's next 10 points. His third dazzling layup in that stretch gave Cleveland a 105-95 lead with 7:35 remaining.

J.R. Smith added 25 points for the Cavaliers, who evened the season series after losing 97-85 in Cleveland on Dec. 1.

"That was nuts," Smith said of Irving's finish. "To be out months and still be able to come out there and shake and bake like he's doing is remarkable. I don't think there is any question who the real All Star is."

Garrett Temple scored 21 points for the Wizards, who have lost two straight and four of five since winning four in a row. John Wall had 20 points and 12 assists for the Wizards.

Both teams shot over 53 percent from the field. Washington made 14 of 24 three-pointers, but only 17 of 27 from the free-throw line.

In the opening game of a six-game road trip, James grabbed 10 rebounds as the Cavaliers finished with a 44-33 advantage on the glass.

Cleveland led 62-50 at halftime and 73-55 early in the bombs-away third quarter. The Wizards fought back and closed within 92-89 on Temple's third three-pointer of the third quarter. Washington hits eight of 11 three-pointers in the quarter while Cleveland sank seven of 13 before the sellout crowd.

After the Wizards tied the game at 95-95, Irving took control. He sank eight of 11 shot attempts in the quarter.

"Too much Kyrie," Temple said. "He was hitting some tough, tough shots."

The 85 points from the previous meeting represented the fewest by a Wizards opponent this season. This time, Cleveland surpassed that total with 4:25 left in the third quarter.

"It was in the front of our mind," James said of the earlier loss. "We know what they did to us. We just wanted to try to get some give back."

Wall led all scorers with 35 points in Washington's win at Cleveland. The All-Star guard was eventually named Eastern Conference Player of the Month.

There was little award winning about Wall's early performance in the rematch and first meeting of the season against Irving, who missed the opening weeks of the season following knee surgery. Wall shot one of nine from the field in the first half while committing six of his seven turnovers.

"He's one year ahead of me, battling for a few years now," Irving said of Wall. "It's just always a great matchup with him and the Wizards."

Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley all had 12 points for Washington.

The Wizards reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals in each of the past two seasons. One week into 2016, they are 12th in the East. The next three games are against teams ahead of them in the standings.

"Every stretch (of games) for us is huge right now," Wall said. "We just take it one game at a time. It's an opportunity just to try to get back on the right path." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)