BOSTON: Byron Scott has this running joke with Kyrie Irving. Just to make sure the rookie stays grounded, Scott likes to remind him that his breath still smells like the baby formula Similac.
After he dribbled around a screen, split two defenders and flipped in a left-handed layup Sunday with 2.6 seconds left to give the Cavs a stunning 88-87 win over the Boston Celtics, Scott will have a harder time using that joke.
“At that particular time, I wasn’t thinking about his age. I was just thinking about how pretty damn good he is with the ball in his hands,” Scott said. “He’s all right. He grew up a little bit more tonight.”
Faced with the same opportunity he had a month ago at Indiana, when his attempt at a game-winning layup bounced off the back of the rim, this time Irving made good.
The Cavs had locked down the Celtics defensively and prevented them from scoring over the game’s final 4:25, erasing an 11-point deficit. The Cavs had two opportunities to take the lead in the final seconds, but Alonzo Gee and Antawn Jamison both missed open looks. After Jamison missed a 3-pointer, Anderson Varejao dived after the loose ball and the Cavs called a timeout with 22 seconds left.
Knowing they could hold for the last shot, Scott instructed Irving to dribble the clock down to seven seconds, come off a high screen set by Varejao and then see what was available.
Irving found the lane available. He split Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass and flipped the ball up past a late-arriving Paul Pierce. When it spun off the glass and in, the Cavs had the improbable win and the 19-year-old Irving had his first game-winner in the NBA.
He finished with 23 points and six assists. He didn’t enter the game in the fourth quarter until 6:09 remained, but he scored eight points and shot 3-of-4 in the final quarter.
“I thought he dominated the fourth quarter,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He single-handedly willed that win for them.”
Making it even sweeter was that Irving’s father, Drederick, was sitting courtside, about 30 feet away from where Irving made the shot. As the Celtics quickly called a timeout, Irving gestured toward his father, who once played at Boston University.
“A little bit of redemption,” Irving said, referring to the shot he missed against the Pacers in the third game of the season. “I just give credit to teammates for having confidence in me and the coaching staff for giving me the ball at the end of the game. It was a tough shot. I’m just happy we got the win.”
A Cavs victory didn’t seem very likely when a Bass free throw put Boston up 87-76 with 4:25 left, but the Celtics turned the ball over three times and missed their last five shots in that span, giving the Cavs their second win in their last seven games.
The Cavs were incredibly thin at guard. They began the night without Daniel Gibson, who is nursing a neck injury, then lost Anthony Parker in the first half to a stiff back. Scott was trying to get away without having to play either Christian Eyenga or Mychel Thompson, but that forced him to play Parker nearly the entire first quarter.
Parker walked off the court with 28 seconds remaining and went immediately to the locker room for treatment. He tried to return late in the second quarter, but was forced to sit the second half.
As a result, Scott had to play Thompson the entire fourth quarter and the rookie impressed. He had played a total of two minutes all season before getting thrown in to play the last 12 minutes. He had four points, two rebounds and a key steal late in the game when the Cavs were rallying.
“I thought he did well,” Scott said of Thompson. “I thought he did a fantastic job on the defensive end, sticking with Ray [Allen]. He had an opportunity to play because of the two guys we had down and he took advantage of it.”
The Celtics had won four in a row, but were again playing without Rajon Rondo (wrist) and Jermaine O’Neal (knee). Allen had 22 points in his first game back after missing three because of an ankle injury and Paul Pierce added 18, but couldn’t get off a potential game-winner before the buzzer that he missed anyhow.
Scott has ripped his team repeatedly in recent days over its lack of effort in games, but it wasn’t a problem Sunday. Everyone was defending and diving for loose balls. As a result, the Cavs sneaked out of the Garden with a victory in a game in which they trailed for most of the second half.
“I think they got tired of me cussing at them all day the other day and they responded,” Scott said. “They did a great job.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.