By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: On his third try at a game winner, Kyrie Irving finally delivered.
Irving’s driving layup over two defenders with 0.6 of a second left gave the Cavaliers a thrilling, exhausting 127-125 double-overtime victory Saturday over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Irving got the corner on rookie Michael Carter-Williams and laid the ball in with his left hand before Sixers center Spencer Hawes could block it.
Irving had 39 points, a career-high 12 assists and five rebounds in 48 ironman minutes on a night the Cavs desperately needed a victory. Dion Waiters had 24 points and eight rebounds, Tristan Thompson had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Jarrett Jack had 20 points off the bench. Those four, along with Anderson Varejao, played the bulk of the fourth quarter and both overtime sessions.
Carter-Williams’ contested, fall-away 3-pointer with 11.3 seconds left tied the game at 125 in double overtime, setting up Irving’s game winner.
The Cavs seemed to be in control after Jack’s 3-pointer with 1:35 left in the first overtime, which extended the lead to 116-109, but the Sixers never quit.
Evan Turner drove the baseline to tie the score at 116 with 8.7 seconds left, and Irving missed a left-handed push shot at the buzzer, forcing the second overtime.
The Cavs had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but Irving’s slicing, contested shot at the rim hit the iron and rolled out.
Frustrated by too many defensive breakdowns and repeated mistakes, Cavs coach Mike Brown hinted at changes following Friday’s loss to the Sixers, and he delivered. He moved Alonzo Gee into the starting lineup at small forward and benched Earl Clark for the entire night.
Then he went to Matthew Dellavedova and Henry Sims in the first quarter, sending a message to the veterans that he’s willing to play anyone who will give him consistent effort and concentration defensively.
The plan seemed to work for a while, but the Cavs’ defense again crumbled in the third quarter and forced them to play catch-up throughout the early part of the fourth.
The Sixers shot 62 percent (13-of-21) in the third quarter to turn a 52-48 Cavs halftime lead into an 85-78 deficit entering the fourth quarter.
The Sixers extended it to 87-78 before the Cavs came roaring back. Irving made a 3-pointer and a long jumper, Jarrett Jack followed with a 3-pointer in the corner and the Cavs scored 17 of the game’s next 22 points.
Irving’s basket and foul with 6:56 left gave the Cavs a 93-92 lead. Irving stood on the baseline as the crowd roared, waiving his arms and asking for more.
The Cavs remain unbeaten at home and winless on the road. With two big road games upcoming Monday and Wednesday at Chicago and Minnesota, the Cavs desperately needed a victory.
The move back to Gee at small forward was almost expected. He started all 82 games there last season and 113 times over the last two years.
Clark’s time in the rotation appears over. He started the first six games, but averaged four points and 3.8 rebounds and was shooting 30 percent. He gave the Cavs length on the perimeter defensively, but Gee is considered the better defender.
Gee began Saturday averaging 4.7 points and 3.2 rebounds and is actually averaging more minutes off the bench than Clark was as a starter.
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.