CLEVELAND: This is why the Houston Rockets traded for James Harden. This is why the Cavaliers are hopeful Kyrie Irving can one day soon become that player. He’s not there yet, as evidenced by Irving’s career-high-tying eight turnovers on Saturday. But the Cavaliers wouldn’t have been competitive in their 112-104 loss to the Rockets without him.
Harden had 29 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter — all over the game’s final seven minutes — after stumbling through the first three-plus quarters missing 11 of his first 13 shots.
Irving countered with 30 points, but the Cavs had too many costly turnovers in the final quarter to pull the upset.
“I take full responsibility,” Irving said. “Eight turnovers out of 14. That’s the difference in the game.”
Irving said the same thing to coach Byron Scott immediately after the team returned to the locker room.
“We don’t get this close without him,” Scott said. “I thought he tried to press at times and take the load. A couple times he tried to go too far. It’s just one of those nights.”
One of Irving’s costly turnovers was an offensive foul in the game’s final minute. Harden’s jumper with 45 seconds left put the Rockets up 108-103. In his haste to answer at the other end, Irving ran over Jeremy Lin for the charge. Harden converted on the Rockets’ ensuing possession with a pair of free throws to extend the lead to seven with 29 seconds left and the Cavs couldn’t recover.
Tristan Thompson had 14 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, continuing his surge of strong play in the absence of Anderson Varejao. Thompson has seven double-doubles in his last nine games, now the question remains if he can continue this pace when Varejao returns.
If all goes according to plan the next couple days, Varejao is expected to participate in the next Cavs practice on Tuesday. If he survives that, he’ll play Wednesday at home against the Atlanta Hawks. He has already been ruled out for Monday’s game at Chicago.
“It’s a void that has to be filled,” Thompson said. “Andy was averaging 14 rebounds so I have to be extra active to fill that void. Obviously it’s impossible to do what Andy does, I’m not saying I’m taking his spot, but we have to find ways to make up for that loss.”
Irving had 13 turnovers on the weekend, counting Friday’s win at Charlotte, but he also scored 63 points in the two games and hit the game-winner against the Bobcats. Scott would like to see Irving’s turnovers no higher than three per game, but understands those numbers will be higher on certain nights given how much they ask of him.
“He’s still young as well,” Scott said. “This is only his second year. He’s a 20-year-old second-year player. He understands how important it is to keep the ball as much as possible in his hands, but he has to make good decisions.”
Harden made plenty of them in the fourth quarter after he was essentially irrelevant until the game’s final seven minutes. He didn’t score his first basket until 5:39 remained in the second quarter, but he made his final four shots in a sensational final seven minutes.
The Cavs were within 91-88 with Dion Waiters defending Harden when he briefly lost control of the ball. Waiters went after it, but Harden was quick to recover. He spun by Waiters and had a clear look at a 30-foot 3-pointer that he sank as the shot-clock buzzer sounded. He punished the Cavs for every mistake, scoring 29 points for the second consecutive night after doing it Friday in a win at Milwaukee.
“He got his rhythm and made some jumpers,” Scott said. “Once he gets his rhythm, he’s hard to guard. When he came out in the third quarter, we knew he was going to start shooting the ball and being more aggressive and he was. That’s what great players do.”
Scott earned his 400th coaching victory on Friday and joins Doc Rivers as the only active coaches with 400 wins as both a player and coach. Scott’s teams won 793 games during his playing days. Scott hasn’t really processed the significance of the feat and couldn’t answer which is sweeter, winning as a player or coach.
“I’ll let you know when we win a championship when I’m coaching,” Scott said. “Then I’ll let you know which one is sweeter.”
Scott won three rings as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers. He entered Saturday with a 400-489 career coaching record, including 48-134 with the Cavs.
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.