CHICAGO: Before the Cavaliers tried for the 12th time to beat the Chicago Bulls, coach Byron Scott gathered his players together Tuesday morning and told them it was time to stand up to the bully.
With Kyrie Irving sidelined, the Cavs finally threw the last punch – and the wily veteran was the one swinging.
Rookie Dion Waiters scored 25 points in Irving’s absence and Luke Walton made a huge steal late to preserve the Cavs’ 101-98 victory over the Bulls on Tuesday, ending an 11-game skid against a team that had won the last six meetings by an average of 27 points.
The fact they did it without Irving made it all the more startling.
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.
“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 their star, the Cavs needed everyone else to topple a team that has routinely abused them for the last three years. Tuesday’s victory was the first since the first-round playoff series between these two teams in 2010.
Walton was terrific most of the night, logging nearly 24 minutes after Tristan Thompson fell into foul trouble. Walton had eight points, five rebounds, five assists and a crucial steal off an inbounds play late in the game that preserved the victory.
The Cavs led 100-96 with 15 seconds left when the Bulls were trying to inbound the ball following a pair of Cavs free throws. Three of the players raced down the court for a quick basket, leaving only Carlos Boozer to inbound to Kirk Hinrich.
Walton knew the Bulls were out of timeouts and were nearing a five-second call, so when Hinrich made a move to catch the inbounds pass, Walton jumped the route, stole the ball and fired underhand behind his back off Hinrich’s leg before falling out of bounds.
It was a crafty, surprisingly athletic play from a 32-year-old with sore legs and a bad back.
“Pretty athletic save of me. It was like a flashback,” Walton joked. “Every once in a while, it all comes back.”
The victory ended a successful 2-1 road trip that the Cavs realistically could’ve – and perhaps should’ve – swept. Scott thought before the trip the Cavs should take two of three, even though two of those games were against the defending champions and a team that has routinely pulverized the Cavs.
Without Irving, Scott turned the offense over to Waiters. He made 10-of-16 shots, played within the offense and spent most of his evening attacking a Bulls defense that didn’t look the same as in previous meetings.
The Cavs led for the game’s final 19 minutes and pushed the lead to 93-86 late in the fourth on a jumper from Shaun Livingston. But the Cavs went scoreless over the next two minutes and the Bulls pulled within 93-92 before Waiters stemmed their momentum with a big jumper in traffic with 2:25 left.
“My teammates came to me and told me to be aggressive,” Waiters said.
The Cavs won despite their starting backcourt combining for just two assists, but the Bulls are reeling. They are now 4-8 in February.
The Cavs, meanwhile, left the United Center thrilled to finally beat the bully despite missing their best player.
“I think Kyrie is one of those guys who’s so good, a lot of times you just rely on him,” Walton said. “Without him, we knew we were all going to have to play a lot harder and a lot more focused.
“The Bulls have been kicking our butts. It makes me want to beat ’em really bad. I don’t like to lose. When you hear one team has beaten us 11 straight times, we’ve got to put an end to that.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.