PHOENIX: This time there was no devastating collapse. This time when the Cavs started quickly and built a big lead against the Phoenix Suns, they found a way to hold on.
Kyrie Irving had 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, including 12 points in the fourth quarter, and the Cavs began this three-game West Coast trip with a 110-101 victory against a team they have struggled holding leads.
The Cavs blew a 26-point lead in this building last season and lost – at the time marking the biggest blown lead in franchise history – then squandered a 20-point lead at home against the Suns earlier this season.
“We always get a big lead on them every time, and they find a way to come back and beat us,” said Dion Waiters, whose flurry of big baskets at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth were instrumental in keeping the Cavs ahead. “I think we did a great job … not letting them get back in. We knew they were going to make a run but we had to make a run right back and I think we did that.”
When Matthew Dellavedova made a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first quarter, the Cavs had their biggest lead at 37-22. The Suns spent the next two quarters steadily cutting into the lead, much like they did in Cleveland in January when they made five 3-pointers in the third quarter to erase an 18-point Cavs halftime lead.
A dunk from Marcus Morris pulled the Suns within 79-77 in the closing seconds of the third quarter Wednesday, but Waiters countered with a big 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the lead back to five. Then he added a layup and another 3-pointer on consecutive possessions early in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 87-77 and the Suns never really threatened again.
The Cavs ended their four-game losing streak while pulling back into a tie for 10th in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs are officially 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff spot, but they’re five games back in the loss column and tied with both the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons with 40 losses.
It was a stinging loss for the Suns, who were playing without their physical and emotional leader in P.J. Tucker after he was suspended for the game. The Suns are trying to catch the Dallas Mavericks for the final playoff spot in the West.
“They looked like the team that was trying to get into the playoffs. We looked like the team that just wanted to play a basketball game,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “If you let a team get going in the first quarter, they are going to be hard to stop the rest of the night.”
Spencer Hawes erupted for 17 of the Cavs’ 37 points in the first quarter, a season high for points in the opening quarter this season. The Cavs pushed the pace early and Hawes was the main benefactor, making all three of his 3-pointers – and most of them uncontested.
During one sequence in the first quarter, Irving had a chase-down block and Hawes initiated – and finished – the break. But then he twisted his left ankle late in the second quarter and was hobbled throughout the second half.
Hawes had the ankle retaped at halftime and played his usual minutes in the second half, but he wasn’t nearly as effective and conceded after the game the ankle was pretty sore.
“I just didn’t feel like I had much mobility in the second half,” said Hawes, who didn’t want to make any predictions regarding his availability for Friday’s game at the Golden State Warriors. “Hopefully it’s nothing too bad. Start feeling better tomorrow.”
Luol Deng had 18 points and nine rebounds, Waiters finished with 10 points and Tristan Thompson had 13 points and seven rebounds. The Cavs crushed the Suns in rebounding, 51-36, and Mike Brown was particularly pleased with the rebounding of his guards.
With the Suns firing so many 3-pointers (10-for-36), there were plenty of long rebounds to snag. Irving, Deng and Jarrett Jack combined for 22.
“We finally buckled down and kept defending the 3-point line the right way,” Brown said. “A lot of huge contributions from a lot of our guys, especially from the 3-point line. But our pace and our defense, our rebounding – especially from our guards – resulted in us getting a win on the road.”