CLEVELAND: Kyrie Irving capped a successful February with a historic night.
Irving had 21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for his first career triple-double, and the Cavs beat the Utah Jazz 99-79 on Friday for their first winning month of the season.
The Cavs went 8-6 in February, just their second winning month in the past four seasons. But as the schedule turns Saturday along with the calendar, this team will have to improve on last season’s March to have any shot at the playoffs.
The only other winning month for the Cavs in the past four years was last February, when they went 7-5 under former coach Byron Scott. They followed that up with a brutal 2-12 March, and Scott was fired after the season.
This March schedule could be just as brutal, starting with Saturday’s game at the Memphis Grizzlies. Only three of the 15 March opponents this month are presently out of the playoffs, and one of those is the Grizzlies, who entered their game Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a winning record and just a half-game out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
If the Cavs are going to make the playoffs, they’re going to earn it starting now. At least they have a little momentum after ending a month that included the franchise’s longest winning streak in six years and now a winning record.
“Every little thing like that is a huge victory for us,” coach Mike Brown said. “It’s been a while since we as an organization have felt this. Stuff like this for us, where we are right now, is a nice milestone.”
Irving was terrific throughout, completing the triple-double late in the fourth quarter after the game was out of reach. He had the points and assists long before the rebounds, but Brown agreed to leave him in the game to grab the last couple he needed. When he was at nine rebounds, the rest of his teammates tried helping him out.
“That’s when you grow alligator arms,” Spencer Hawes joked. “If you see one coming off, pull back and hope he’s the guy standing there.”
It was the 50th triple- double in Cavaliers history (44 regular season, six postseason). The last 34 were all by LeBron James. The last regular season triple-double for James was March 16, 2010, at Detroit.
Irving was supported by Luol Deng, who rediscovered his shooting stroke and scored 16 points after shooting 36 percent (26-for-72) in his past five games. Hawes had 13 points and 16 rebounds, and Tristan Thompson had 18 points and 14 rebounds on a night the short-handed Cavs shrunk a little more.
Anthony Bennett missed the game with a sore right knee, the fourth regular member sidelined from the rotation with injury. But the Cavs didn’t need him Friday.
They outscored the Jazz 30-19 in each the third and fourth quarters to run away with a game they started slowly. The game was briefly interrupted in the fourth quarter when a fan ran on the floor and made it up to Irving before he was tackled by police. It’s the third time in about a year a fan has made it onto the floor and up to a player at Quicken Loans Arena.
One fan made it up to James last season then another fan made it up to Irving earlier this season before he was apprehended.
“Maybe he could’ve waited until after the game,” Irving joked. “He just told me that he loved me, I told him I loved him back.”
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.