CLEVELAND (AP) Kyrie Irving scored 22 points in his return after missing three games with a concussion, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 98-87 win Wednesday night over the reeling Indiana Pacers, who dropped their fifth straight.
Irving played for the first time since Feb. 7, when he banged his head following a collision in Miami. The 19-year-old rookie was only cleared to play in the morning by Cavs doctors, who followed the NBA's new guidelines on head injuries during his recovery.
Darren Collison scored 18 and Roy Hibbert 17 for Indiana, which was without leading scorer Danny Granger because of a sprained ankle. Dahntay Jones had only three points as Granger's replacement.
Irving said he felt fully recovered and was excited to be back on the floor.
And it showed.
The young star went 5 of 6 and scored 12 points in the first quarter, when he added two assists and two rebounds while helping the Cavs jump to an early double-digit lead. Irving's legs were lively from the week off, and as much as it pained him to have to sit out, the No. 1 overall draft pick believes the rest helped.
''I kind of took it as a break for me, honestly,'' Irving said. ''It couldn't have come at a better time. I'm going to be even busier next weekend with the All-Star (weekend). It's good to get a break. ... I feel fresh.''
Irving didn't score in the second quarter, but he added eight points in the third - making a pair of 3-pointers - to help the Cavs, who led by 12 after one and 18 at halftime, keep the Pacers at bay.
Cleveland took an 18-point lead into the fourth, but with Irving on the bench, the Cavs became disjointed on offense and didn't score for the first 5:07 of the quarter.
Ramon Sessions finally ended the drought with a three-point play to make it 82-67 with 6:53 left, and Indiana only got as close as nine points in the final minute.
Cavs coach Byron Scott had been hoping one of Cleveland's big men would step up with Varejao out, and the 7-foot Erden came through. He won't be able to duplicate Varejao's boundless energy, but Erden added eight rebounds and did a solid defensive job inside on Hibbert.
It didn't all go as planned for the Cavs.
Guard Daniel Gibson injured his left ankle in the third quarter, when he came down on Indiana guard Paul George's foot. Gibson stayed down on the floor for several minutes in obvious pain before he was helped up and limped to the locker room. Gibson did not return and it may be a few days before he's back.
It's hard to know when the Pacers will be back.
One of the NBA's surprise teams to start the season, Indiana has gone 2-6 in its past eight games - seven of them against teams with winning records.
Granger, who sprained his ankle in the final seconds of the first quarter Tuesday against Miami, warmed up on the floor before the game but was obviously uncomfortable. Granger winced several times while trying to make cuts and the Pacers announced less than an hour before tip-off that they would be without their leading scorer, who averages 18 per game.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel was interested in seeing how his team would respond to being blown out by the Heat, which had Indiana down by 35 at one point.
''We haven't played well for a week,'' Vogel said. ''It's not just (Tuesday's) game.''
The Pacers, playing the second of three games in three nights, appeared gassed in the first half. They fell behind by 21 in the second quarter and finished the first half with just two assists.
Jones and David West shot a combined 2 of 18 in the opening half.
Notes: As if being clobbered by the Heat wasn't bad enough, the Pacers arrived at their Cleveland hotel to find Miami's team was also staying at the Ritz-Carlton. Vogel joked they deserved it. ''Take that,'' he said. ''You don't play well, you've got to stay with those guys.'' LeBron James and Co. play the Cavs on Friday. ... Cleveland still hasn't provided a projection or timetable on Varejao's return. He underwent tests earlier this week, and Scott said he has not been told Varejao may need surgery. ... Pacers C Jeff Foster was out again with a sore lower back. He returned to the lineup Tuesday, but the team is being cautious and doesn't want him to play on consecutive days until he's ready. He is expected back Thursday against New Jersey.
- Indiana Pacers
- Anderson Varejao
- Cleveland Cavaliers