October 24, 2014

Elyria
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Cavaliers 115, Thunder 110: Interested Irving leads impressive upset

CLEVELAND — The Oklahoma City Thunder put on quite a show in its first game at Quicken Loans Arena since 2011.
The Cavaliers, however, were the better team Saturday night.
All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving scored seven of his game-high 35 points in the final 72 seconds, powering Cleveland to a 115-110 come-from-behind win.
The Cavaliers, who trailed by 11 midway through the third quarter, also got 21 points and 10 rebounds from recently acquired center Marreese Speights in stunning the Thunder.
“I figured Kyrie would be a lot more focused tonight — and he was,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “He’s a closer. That’s exactly what he did.”
After Thunder small forward Kevin Durant buried a 3-pointer to tie the score at 108 with 1:26 left, Irving responded with five unanswered points. He drove for a layup, then buried a 26-footer that gave the Cavaliers a 113-108 advantage.
Durant (32 points, 11 rebounds) answered with a layup with 39 seconds remaining, but Irving calmly ran down the shot clock before banking home a jumper that iced the win with 12 seconds on the clock.
“Kyrie is one of the best in the business, give him a lot of credit,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I didn’t realize he was only 20, which is scary. It’s like picking your poison with him whether you’re going to allow him to attack the basket or shoot jumpers.”
The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for Cleveland (14-34) and came one evening after Irving was benched for the entire fourth quarter in a 117-99 drubbing in Detroit. He admitted being “disinterested” during the loss, but was anything but against Oklahoma City (35-12).
Irving scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and 23 points in the second half in outdueling Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (28 points), who will join him at the NBA All-Star Game later this month in Houston.
“I knew we would come out with more focus and more energy tonight,” Irving said. “I just wish we had this energy every single night because we showed we can play with the best of them when we do.”
Speights also scored 13 points in the final period, joining C.J. Miles (16 points), Shaun Livingston (two points, six assists), Wayne Ellington and Tristan Thompson (11 points, 12 rebounds) in igniting the sellout crowd with their infectious energy to start the fourth.
Starting shooting guard Dion Waiters chipped in 12 points and six assists for the Cavaliers, but there was no doubt the bench bunch — and Irving — were primarily responsible for the upset victory.
“The crowd was great tonight, I don’t know if we’d have won without them,” said Speights, who was dealt by Memphis with Ellington and Josh Selby in exchange for Jon Leuer on Jan. 22. “That’s one of the reasons I signed off on getting traded here. I could have rejected it, but I didn’t because I knew this was a great city and great fans, and I always wanted to be here.”
Zanesville native Kevin Martin added 15 points for the Thunder, which did not play in Cleveland during the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season. Serge Ibaka had 18 points, 12 boards and four blocked shots, but was no match for Speights at crunch time.
“I love what I see from Marreese,” Scott said. “I didn’t know he was that fiery until he got here, but he made big shots when we really needed it. I’m very happy he’s with our team. All the guys are because of what he brings.”
Standing firm
Irving stood by his comments from one night earlier, when he said he was “disinterested” during the loss in Detroit. The reigning Rookie of the Year scored 14 points in 30 minutes, but was dominated by Pistons counterpart Brandon Knight.
“I said there were different points in the game where I became frustrated and disinterested,” Irving said. “There are no excuses for last night. It’s part of the game.”
The former Duke star also took a page out of ex-Cleveland superstar LeBron James’ playbook by excusing himself for his poor performance.
“For the first game in my career, I said I was disinterested,” said Irving, who ranks sixth in the NBA with a 23.7 scoring average. “I’m pretty good. I’m allowed to have one game like that.
“Most of the season, I’ve been OK. I think my stats and my team speak for it.”
Out of action
The Cavaliers were without shooting guard Daniel Gibson (sprained right big toe) and power forward Luke Walton (personal matters).
Gibson went through an on-court workout before the game and said he hopes to play Wednesday when Cleveland hosts Charlotte. He was injured in Toronto on Jan. 26.
“It’s killing me not to be out there with my guys,” Gibson said. “I think I’m running out of suits to wear on the bench.”
Walton has temporarily left the team and sat out his fourth straight game.
Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.