CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving missed his first seven shots Wednesday night and still went on to the finest night of his career.
The Cleveland Cavaliers guard scored a career-high 55 points, the highest scoring output in the NBA this season, to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 99-94 in a thriller despite not having LeBron James.
James missed the game with a sprained right wrist that is also expected to keep him out of Friday’s home game against the Sacramento Kings.
Irving dazzled in James’ absence, scoring 14 consecutive points and 24 of their last 28 while setting a franchise record for 3-pointers in a game (11) and a Quicken Loans Arena scoring record. He fell one point shy of James’ franchise mark of 56 points.
“I’ve started worse than that before,” Irving said of his sluggish start. “It’s just part of the game and part of competing. The shots ended up falling. I was thankful.”
Irving scored the Cavs’ last 11 points of the first quarter, their final eight points in both the second and third quarters and 10 of their last 12 to end the game. He surpassed the NBA season high of 52 points by Minnesota guard Mo Williams and Golden State guard Klay Thompson. The Cavs won their eighth straight to match their longest winning streak of the season.
“Kyrie was exceptional,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “That’s a bit of an understatement.”
Irving, who is expected to be named an All-Star reserve Thursday, also scored a then-season-high 38 points in Tuesday’s win at Detroit, giving him 93 points while shooting 17 of 29 on 3-pointers in the last two days.
Irving won Wednesday’s game with a 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left. With the score tied at 94, he walked the ball down the floor and shot it over Portland forward Nic Batum, who has five inches on Irving but was defenseless to stop it.
“He’s so quick you don’t want to get too close,” Batum said. “You have to control the drive. I tried to contest the shot. I was on him, but he made a big shot.”
Irving outdueled Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who fell one point shy of his season high and finished with 38 points and 11 rebounds while playing with a torn ligament in his left thumb.
The Blazers had a chance to tie the score at 97 in the final seconds, but guard Damian Lillard missed an open 3-pointer from the corner. Irving grabbed the rebound and made two free throws to end it.
These two teams are used to fantastic finishes in Cleveland. Lillard’s 3-pointer in the final second gave the Blazers a 119-116 win over the Cavs last season, while Batum’s 3-pointer in the final second gave the Blazers a 118-117 win in double overtime two years ago.
“He carried them,” Lillard said of Irving. “He played great. I’ve seen him get on streaks before, but usually they’re mid-range pull-ups and nice layups, not 11 3s. He’s in a good rhythm.”
James injured his right wrist when he landed awkwardly late in the third quarter of Tuesday’s win at Detroit. He left the game briefly, then returned to start the fourth quarter and left the arena believing the injury wasn’t serious. But he woke up with soreness in the wrist and an MRI revealed the sprain.
James declined to address the media because of Irving’s incredible night.
“I’m going to kindly decline to talk to you guys,” James said before leaving the locker room with his right wrist taped. “This is his night.”
NOTES: The Blazers flew into New York on Sunday, but when Monday’s game at the Brooklyn Nets was postponed, they instead traveled Monday to Cleveland. “Flying cross-country and having another long travel day was tough,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I was glad we could get out of New York when we did. The travel could have been much worse.” … F LaMarcus Aldridge played in his second game on Wednesday with a torn ligament in his thumb. “I like the fact he was very aggressive,” Stotts said. “He didn’t shy away from contact. He didn’t show any ill effects of the hand bothering him at all.” … F LeBron James broke his left wrist during an AAU game while he was in high school. He had flashbacks to that when he fell Tuesday at Detroit. “My arms, both of them, numbed up and I was a little scared for sure,” James said. “I was trying to brace my fall on my hands.” … The Cavs began the night 21-1 when scoring at least 102 points in a game, the second-best mark in the league behind Memphis (23-1).
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.