CLEVELAND: Even when he’s sick, Kyrie Irving makes life miserable on the Milwaukee Bucks.
Irving had 39 points and a career-high four blocks and the Cavs narrowly escaped with a 114-111 overtime victory against the worst team in the NBA.
The Bucks dressed just nine players and were without a pair of starters in Caron Butler and Ersan Ilyasova, but they pushed a Cavs team that continues to struggle against the league’s weaker teams. The Bucks have now lost five straight and six of their last seven.
The Cavs were short-handed, too. Dion Waiters missed the game with tendonitis in his wrist and Anthony Bennett was sick.
Irving spent the last two days laying around his apartment sick, but decided about two hours before the game he was going to drive to the arena and see what happened. He played a team-high 43 minutes and hit the big shots in overtime to end the Cavs’ three-game losing streak.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m tired,” he said. “I really want to just lay down right now.”
Irving missed Thursday’s practice and Friday morning’s shootaround with flu-like symptoms, but he continued to torment the Bucks, a team he inexplicably punishes more than any other in the league. He entered averaging 27 points against them, his highest scoring average against any opponent, then scored more than 30 points for the fifth time this season and the third time in his last five games.
“I wish he was sick more often,” Jarrett Jack joked.
Irving made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to begin overtime, then assisted on a long jumper from Jack to push the lead to 104-98. Mike Brown checked with Irving at one point in the second half to see if his star was feeling all right and Irving flashed him a boyish grin.
“I knew he was OK,” Brown said.
Irving took an incidental shot to the ribs late in the fourth quarter from Brandon Knight and the Cavs were forced to call a timeout so Irving could run to the bench. He grabbed a trash can, but said he held off from vomiting. He returned to the game when play resumed.
“I was this close,” to vomiting, Irving said. “I was holding it back. Maybe I was chugging too much of the Gatorade. I held it back as much as I could.”
For all that has gone right the last couple of weeks, the Cavs are still struggling against the league’s worst teams. The Bucks are now 5-21, easily the league’s worst mark, yet they’ve beaten the Cavs once already and nearly did it again on Friday.
A pair of free throws from Irving pushed the lead to 112-108 with 21.5 seconds left, but the Bucks responded with a 3-pointer from O.J. Mayo to make it a one-point game. The Bucks tried forcing the ball out of Irving’s hands to avoid fouling him. Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo double-teamed him, but Irving kept splitting the double teams and put on a magnificent dribbling display until Knight finally relented and fouled Irving, who made both free throws. Mayo had clean looks at two 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds, but missed them both and the Cavs survived.
They forced overtime when Tristan Thompson tipped in a miss from Irving with 1.8 seconds left to tie the game at 96. Thompson battled foul trouble but still had 10 points and 15 rebounds. The Cavs scored 10 of the first 12 points of the fourth quarter to take an 80-72 lead, but they failed to bury the weary Bucks, who didn’t score a field goal over the final 3:45 of regulation.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.