CLEVELAND: Ninety minutes before tip-off Wednesday night, a bleary-eyed Kyrie Irving pulled a T-shirt over his head and stood up in front of his locker. He said he was still tired from All-Star weekend and looked as if he needed a nap.
“I’m just trying to wake up,” he said.
By the middle of the fourth quarter, Irving was growling at mid-court, both fists clenched and biceps flexed as his teammates swarmed around him.
Irving was sensational again in the fourth quarter, scoring 20 of his 35 points in the game’s final seven minutes in the Cavs’ 105-100 win over the New Orleans Hornets.
For nearly two years, Irving has quietly grumbled about the Cavs’ lack of national television appearances. So in his first prime-time game in front of the nation, Irving woke up when the lights were the brightest in the fourth quarter.
“Kyrie was making shots everywhere,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “They really didn’t have an answer for him.”
The Cavs’ plan was to keep Irving in the middle of the floor in part to identify any double-teams early. He had a relatively quiet first half with seven points, four assists and three turnovers, but he immediately took charge when he returned to the game in the fourth quarter with the Cavs trailing 78-74 and 7:08 left.
Irving scored 11 consecutive points late in the fourth quarter and 18-of-20 during a five-minute stretch. His step-back jumper with 4:23 left gave the Cavs an 85-83 lead, then his 3-pointer with 3:54 left extended the lead to 88-83 and brought the crowd roaring to its feet as Irving howled near mid-court in delight.
“You can kind of see it coming,” Scott said. “He gets a little bit of a gleam in his eye. He hits one or two and he kind of gets going. You could see in the fourth quarter he was just really aggressive. He just kind of put us on his back.”
Irving scored 28 points in the second half to stave off a Hornets team that managed to cut the lead to 97-93 on a 3-pointer from Ryan Anderson in the game’s final minute.
The Cavs struggled miserably from the line most of the night, but Irving, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington combined to make all eight attempts in the final minute to stave off another comeback. Equally important, the Cavs didn’t have a turnover in the fourth quarter.
“In that fourth quarter, especially when it’s winning time, obviously I want to win and my teammates want to win,” Irving said. “The opportunities that are there in the first three quarters that I don’t exploit, I went into the fourth quarter and luckily some shots went in for me.”
The Cavs squandered a 10-point lead late in the third quarter when the Hornets scored 12 consecutive points to take a 69-68 lead into the fourth. But the Hornets didn’t have anyone to match Irving over the game’s final seven minutes. In the process, he soundly answered questions about how tired he was beginning the second half of the season.
“I think he’s all right,” Scott joked. “I don’t think he’s that tired.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.