CLEVELAND: Kyrie Irving is still searching for his shooting stroke, but he discovered something else Saturday night – an anxious fan who wanted to deliver a message.
Irving rebounded from his first career scoreless night with 20 points and six assists and the Cavs beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday 88-82 in a strange night that included a near brawl and a fan on the court.
Tristan Thompson had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Andrew Bynum had 18 points and six rebounds and the Cavs improved to 3-3 against the powerful Western Conference while remaining just 4-10 against the weak East. They also continue to play much better at home than on the road.
Play was stopped in the first half when a juvenile ran out on the court wearing a t-shirt that read “Kyrie Don’t Leave.” He ran down the middle aisle, jumped over a row of chairs and tapped a surprised Irving on the shoulder.
“I was a little scared,” Irving said. “It was a prideful Cleveland fan. I love them.”
Play was halted as security and police pulled the boy off the floor. A Cavs spokesman said Cleveland police are handling the pending charges, but the team will encourage full prosecution. Irving was asked if he also wanted to press charges since the youth touched him, but Irving said he declined.
Of course, the Cavs endured a similar stunt last year when a fan ran on the court during a game against the Miami Heat asking LeBron James to return next summer when he can become a free agent. Irving, who can sign an extension in the summer, is under the Cavs’ control for another two seasons.
As for the game, the Clippers took a brief 66-64 lead near the end of the third quarter on a 3-pointer from Jamal Crawford – their first lead since early in the game – but Jarrett Jack’s ensuing half-court heave at the buzzer reclaimed a 67-66 lead entering the fourth. The Cavs followed with the first 6 points of the fourth quarter and eventually extended the lead to 11 before holding on in the final minute.
Players had to be separated with 2:21 left in the game when Anderson Varejao threw a shoulder into Blake Griffin, which Griffin didn’t appreciate and responded by shoving Varejao to the ground. Then Griffin started going after Varejao and had to be restrained by teammates and officials while Varejao laid on his back laughing. Varejao said he simply made a basketball play and wasn’t sure why Griffin was so upset, yet he clearly has a history of irritating opponents.
“I don’t think I aggravate people,” Varejao said. “I’m just trying to help my team. I don’t know why they get mad.”
Varejao was given a personal foul, Griffin and Jack were given technicals and the game resumed, although Mike Brown thought Griffin got away with an illegal screen in the game’s final seconds when he threw his body into Jack, who is seven inches and 50 pounds smaller, and knocked him to the ground. Brown will ask the league to look at the play, but isn’t sure if Griffin will be reprimanded for it.
“It’s tough when you see one of your players playing as hard as he’s playing and he gets hit in the back,” Brown said. “And nothing happens.”
Irving rebounded from Friday’s miserable performance in Atlanta, but still shot only 6 of 15 and had seven turnovers. He made his first shot early in the first quarter, snapping a string of five scoreless quarters and 14 consecutive misses.
Irving entered the game averaging less than 20 points per game and shooting under 40 percent, but Brown isn’t worried about the numbers and wants Irving to keep firing.
“I don’t care if he goes 0 for 30, I want him to keep being aggressive,” Brown said. “If he misses five in a row and he feels like he can get a great look on his next one, take it and I’ll back him. I’ll support him. I just don’t want him to lose his aggressiveness on that end of the floor because we need him to score.”
Facing some of the league’s top point guards seemed to inspire Irving in the past and perhaps it did again Saturday facing Chris Paul. Clippers coach Doc Rivers called Irving and Paul the game’s two best ball handlers and compared them both to Isiah Thomas, who is his standard of measurement.
Paul had 13 points and 15 assists Saturday but shot just 4 of 16. Griffin had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I saw him at Duke and I knew he was a good shooter, but I never thought he was a great shooter. He is a great shooter,” Rivers said. “Unfortunately for him, he's trying to figure out new players, a new system almost every year for that matter for him with all the new players. I think that's very difficult for a young point guard.”