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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 just awoken from a nap.
“I’m just trying to wake up,” he said.
By the middle of the fourth quarter, Irving was again growling at midcourt, both fists clenched and biceps flexed as his teammates swarmed around him.
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.
Irving scored 35 points, including 20 in seven dazzling minutes in the fourth quarter and the Cavs opened their post-All-Star break schedule with a 105-100 victory over the New Orleans Hornets.
Irving, as usual, was a big reason why.
Irving scored 11 consecutive points for the Cavs and 18 of 20 during a five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter. His stepback 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 in delight.
Irving scored 28 points in the second half to stave off a Hornets that managed to pull within 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.
The Cavs shot 24 of 34 at the free-throw line, but they were just 16 of 26 before the game’s final minute. The poor shooting aided the Hornets in pulling back into the game in the third quarter after the Cavs led by 10.
Alonzo Gee’s free throw gave the Cavs a 66-56 lead with 4:03 left in the third quarter, but as has been the case most of the season, the Cavs couldn’t deliver a game-ending blow.
Their sloppy ball handling, poor shooting both from the floor and the free-throw line allowed the Hornets to score the game’s next 12 points. Instead of the Cavs holding a commanding lead, they trailed 69-68 entering the fourth quarter.
But they didn’t have anyone to match Irving in the fourth. As he stepped to the line with 1:48 left and the Cavs up by nine, he was showered by premature chants of “MVP.” Those same chants returned again in the game’s final seconds.
Irving obviously isn’t an MVP candidate yet, but he’s clearly the Cavs MVP – particularly in the fourth quarter.
Waiters scored 16 points, C.J. Miles had 11 points off the bench and Gee and Tyler Zeller each scored 10.
Robin Lopez had 15 points, Greivis Vasquez had 13 points and eight assists and top overall pick Anthony Davis had 12 points and four rebounds.
The Cavs will practice Thursday and Friday before bracing for a stretch of four games in five nights, beginning with Saturday’s game at Orlando.