DENVER: He wanted a better effort, for his Cavs to take the fight to the opponent and to play with the same type of hard charging, aggressive effort the Cavs gave so many times throughout the first half of the season.
Wednesday night at Denver, Byron Scott finally got it – with another huge assist from rookie Kyrie Irving.
Irving’s driving basket with four seconds left gave the Cavs a 100-99 victory and the top overall pick in last summer’s draft his fourth game-winning basket of the season in a wild game that had eight lead changes in the final 3:17.
Irving took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor against Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, getting the ball up over four Nuggets defenders with little resistance. They were all standing under the rim, but helpless to stop him.
“He picked me up full court and I take that as a test when people pick me up full court,” Irving said. “I’m pretty confident in my offensive skillset in the fourth quarter and the lane opened up when I got down there. It was a tough shot.”
Irving scored 10 points in the final 2:36 – all on drives to the basket and continuation fouls on two of the four plays.
“We’re accustomed to seeing him night in and night out, but for our opponents who only see it on film, it’s totally different when you’re trying to guard him,” said Antawn Jamison, who scored 33 points (26 in the first half). “He’s always under control. He does a great job of setting opponents up and he finishes around the rim better than anyone I’ve ever played with.”
The Nuggets had a shot to win it at the buzzer when Lawson, who hit the game-winner in the Nuggets’ overtime victory over the Kings on Monday night, beat Irving off the dribble, but his driving layup bounced off the rim as Irving jumped back into position to defend the shot.
The Cavs had lost eight of their last 10 in this series and nine of the last 11 at Pepsi Center, but escaped when Irving did what he has done best this season – take over games in the fourth quarter.
“Just think about how good KI is going to be when he turns 20 years old!” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert tweeted right after the game. “Are you kidding me?!!”
Jamison helped Irving’s cause with a huge first half, when he scored 22 of the Cavs’ first 42 points.
“Without him in the first half,” Scott said, “I don’t know what would’ve happened.”
Nene gave the Nuggets a 99-98 lead when he posted up and scored over Tristan Thompson, forcing the Cavs to call a timeout with 15 seconds left. Irving took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor.
When the shot fell, Nuggets coach George Karl called timeout and shook his head in disbelief.
When Lawson missed the Nuggets’ final chance at the buzzer, Anthony Parker grabbed the rebound and pumped his fist in celebration as the Cavs finished off a stunning road win over a Denver team likely headed to the playoffs in the Western Conference.
Alonzo Gee had 19 points and four steals for the Cavs, who travel to Oklahoma City feeling a little better about themselves. Their six-game losing skid is dead and their defense played a big role in escaping Denver with the victory.
“Playing hard doesn’t guarantee you anything, but without it you have no chance,” Scott said. “I thought we did that tonight. We competed. We played hard for 48 minutes and we got a victory.”