The Cleveland Cavaliers faced a serious challenge to get back into the win column Wednesday vs. the Dallas Mavericks with LeBron James out for rest. Luckily for the Cavs, Kyrie Irving made up for that absence with plenty of star power. He even covered for his own key mistake late in the fourth quarter.
Irving led the Cavs offense most of the night and was instrumental in building a 88-71 lead entering the final nine minutes. However, the Mavericks dominated the remainder of the period and looked to have the momentum after Dirk Nowitzki cut it to 97-95 on a lay-up with 1:10 left. The Cavs had a chance to make it a two-possession game in the closing 20 seconds, but Irving fired this pass out of bounds under pressure:
He took responsibility for that error by forcing the game-saving turnover the very next play. The Mavericks effectively created a mismatch with Irving guarding Nowitzki on a post-up that would seem to have led to a straightforward turnaround jumper. But Kyrie beat Dirk to Devin Harris's pass, grabbed his lone steal of the night, and took a foul for the chance to ice it at the line:
Irving calmly made both freebies at the other end, although Deron Williams drained an unlikely buzzer-beater to make it a very narrow 99-98 victory. The win stands as a terrific result for Cleveland, which lost to a shorthanded Utah Jazz squad on the road Monday and would have seen its lead at the top of the East drop to just 1 1/2 games with a loss against Dallas.
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Although Kevin Love scored 23, Irving was the clear star of the night with a game-high 33 points (13-of-28 FG) to offset 10-of-36 Cavs shooting from beyond the arc and a 21:16 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Yet those numbers would have seemed relatively minor if not for his big steal, which kept the Mavericks from finishing an impressive comeback that included game-changing play from J.J. Barea. The diminutive guard led a terrific peformance by the Dallas bench, which scored 57 of 98 points on a night when the four non-Dirk starters combined for just 21.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, the loss registers as their sixth in their last seven contests and puts the Jazz only 1 1/2 games behind for the final playoff spot in the West. It won't get any easier for Dallas in their next four games — two matchups with the Golden State Warriors sandwich a home-and-home with the Portland Trail Blazers.
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