PHOENIX: This was supposed to be Kyrie Irving’s big defensive test. His coach just told reporters he sometimes takes plays off on defense and relaxes when his man doesn’t have the ball. Now he was facing a two-time MVP in waterbug Steve Nash, who has made a career of spinning opposing point guards into the ground.
Instead of Nash challenging Irving, it was the other way around. Sure, Nash still had his required double-double, but Irving set a career high with 26 points and the Cavs claimed their second win on this West Coast trip with an impressive 101-90 victory at the Phoenix Suns Thursday night.
Irving scored 12 consecutive points for the Cavs during one stretch in the second quarter, turning a four-point deficit into a six-point lead. The Cavs led the rest of the night.
“He just went to work,” Scott said. “He had some open shots he knocked down, some great drives to the basket he finished and I think everyone else started to feed off that.”
Irving still made plenty of mistakes, including six more turnovers and a few more defensive lapses defending Nash, but against one of the greatest point guards of his generation, Irving delivered one of the best performances of his young career.
“It was definitely fun playing against a great point guard,” Irving said. “I’ve been watching him for so long, now that I’m finally playing against him, it’s a little surreal. But once you’re out there, you’re in the game.”
Antawn Jamison had 23 points and Anderson Varejao had a season-high 17 rebounds, one shy of his career high.
The Cavs led by 10 for much of the fourth quarter, and with another game tonight, Scott wanted to rest Irving and Jamison for the entire quarter. But once the lead dipped under 10, both the rookie and the veteran came back to close out the win.
The lead slipped to six in the final four minutes, but Irving immediately took the ball down the lane for an easy basket, then later stormed to the basket again, knocking over Nash in the process to score. In a rare instance, the officials let it go, deferring to the rookie over the veteran.
Nash had 16 points and 15 assists, Marcin Gortat had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Michael Redd, in his first game of the season, had 12 points off the bench for the Suns.
The Cavs have already won two road games against Western Conference teams on this trip after winning just once on the road against the West all of last season.
“As young as we are, hopefully some of these experiences are going to help us, and I think they will,” Scott said. “We just have to keep going.”
The Cavs head to Los Angeles now 5-5 – the same record they had after 10 games last season.
After starting the second quarter slowly, missing 10 of their first 11 shots, Irving hit a long jumper and kept backing up.
He took 3-pointers on the Cavs’ next three possessions and made a pair of them. He hit another jumper, then capped the highlight reel with one of those patended up-and-under layups. He started on one side of the basket and soared to the other, even drawing a raised eyebrow and a head nod from Scott, who has been careful with his praises of Irving’s spectacular plays early in the season.
By the time Irving’s shooting clinic was complete, with Nash defending him for much of it, the rookie had scored 12 consecutive points.
“He was being aggressive and got us back into the game,” Scott said. “From that point on, we played pretty solid basketball at both ends.”
Irving said teams are respecting his ability to drive a little more and he’s noticing them backing off him just a little. That’s giving him more room to get off jump shots. In all, Irving made 11 of 17 shots.
“Some teams are starting to respect my driving ability a little more,” Irving said. “Coming off that screen, when a big man’s back, it’s an automatic shot for any guard in this league. So having that respect and getting that respect is an important aspect of my game going forward.”
Daniel Gibson had 10 points off the bench for the Cavs, including a big 3-pointer in the final minutes, and Tristan Thompson had seven points and six rebounds.
The Cavs now will prepare to face former coach Mike Brown and the Lakers, which also happens to be the team with which Scott won three championships. They’ll head there 2-3 on this lengthy road trip, which just might be far better than anyone expected from a team that won just seven road games all of last season.