CHICAGO: Kyrie Irving was dressed in a suit and sitting at the end of the Cavaliers’ bench, so coach Byron Scott turned to rookie Dion Waiters and handed him the ball.
In return, Waiters delivered a big night and a rare win against a Chicago Bulls team that has routinely pounded the Cavs the last three seasons.
Waiters scored 25 points and the Cavs beat the Bulls 101-98 on Tuesday, ending an 11-game skid against a team that has won by at least 20 points in four of the last five meetings.
And they did it without Irving, who is out with a hyperextended right knee.
Irving injured the knee in practice on Friday when he banged knees with Omri Casspi, then tried to play through it during the weekend games at the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat.
Irving told the medical staff it tightens up on him after he comes out of games, so the decision was made to rest him now to prevent further injury.
“If it continues to get worse, he’s probably going to have to sit out a whole lot longer than expected,” Scott said. “So right now our medical team thought it would be a good idea to rest him the next couple days, see where he is and go from there.”
Irving is listed as questionable for tonight’s home game against the Toronto Raptors, although he seems unlikely to play. The Cavs will take Thursday off before hosting the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
Without Irving, Scott had to juggle his lineup and rotation against the Bulls. Shaun Livingston started at point guard and Waiters was the backup, but Scott went into the night putting the scoring burden on Waiters.
“You put the ball in his hands a little more when Kyrie’s out, there’s no doubt about that,” Scott said. “He is the other guy we have who can definitely create for himself and his teammates.”
Waiters didn’t have an assist, but shouldered the bulk of the scoring load. He attacked a Bulls defense that seemed unusually inept at defending the basket. Joakim Noah, who typically punishes the Cavs inside, was a non-factor most of the evening.
The Bulls were playing without Taj Gibson and noted Cavs killer Kirk Hinrich was a game-time decision with a sore elbow, but he played and had 11 points and 11 assists.
The Cavs led throughout the fourth quarter, but the Bulls pulled within 98-96 in the final minute and had a chance to tie, but Luol Deng missed a jumper and Livingston made two free throws at the other end. Crafty veteran Luke Walton followed with a brilliant steal off the ensuing inbounds pass and flipped it underhand behind him off Hinrich’s leg while Walton was falling out of bounds.
The Cavs retained possession and Waiters split a pair of free throws to give the Cavs a 101-96 lead with 9.7 seconds left, sealing the rare victory in this series.
The Cavs hadn’t beaten the Bulls since their first-round playoff series in 2010 and has lost the last six by an average of 27 points.
Livingston had 15 points, Wayne Ellington had 13 points and six rebounds off the bench and Tristan Thompson had 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Cavs won despite their starting backcourt combining for just two assists.
The Bulls crawled back in the game late when the Cavs went scoreless for more than two minutes, but Waiters responded with a jumper in traffic with 2:38 left to stem the Bulls’ momentum and extend the Cavs’ lead to 95-92. Livingston grabbed a big offensive rebound on the Cavs’ next trip down and Walton made a 20-foot jumper to make it 97-92.
Scott spoke before the game about the Cavs standing up to the bully and finally playing as aggressive as the physical Bulls.
For the first time in three years, the Cavs finally threw the last punch.