AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — All-Star guard Kyrie Irving is finally discovering what it’s like to string together some victories.
Cleveland’s third-year point guard heads into All-Star weekend feeling good about his team for a change, as the Cavaliers notched their first four-game winning streak in four seasons.
Irving made the game’s biggest shot, a 3-pointer with 27.2 seconds remaining, in a 93-89 triumph over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night at The Palace.
The Cavaliers (20-33) haven’t won this many games in a row since they had an eight-game streak in March 2010, when LeBron James was still wearing their uniform. They did it the hard way, never taking a lead until Irving’s free throws with 2:06 remaining.
“It’s been fun,” said Irving, who had 23 points. “Last year, we went on a three-game winning streak and laid an egg at home. This time, we had a back-to-back and we could have folded, especially at halftime, but we trusted one another. Coach (Mike) Brown didn’t really have to say much, especially in the third and fourth quarters.”
Power forward Tristan Thompson scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers (20-33), who snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Pistons. Thompson scored 14 in the fourth quarter, when Cleveland outscored Detroit 34-23, including a pair of putback dunks after Irving’s go-ahead free throws.
“I thought Tristan had a monster game,” Brown said. “Early in the game, his post defense wasn’t good. He buckled down and found a way to defend the right way as the game went on. Then, he impacted the game with his rebounding and his ability to run and his ability to score in the painted area.”
Cleveland was still clinging to a one-point lead when Irving fired in his 3-pointer over Detroit swingman Kyle Singler. That touched off a celebration on the Cavs’ bench, but Irving was not impressed.
“I was shown the video,” Irving said. “A couple of those dance moves, we’ve got to work on as a team going forward. We’ve got to get some practice in. Practice makes perfect when it comes to dancing, too.”
The Pistons seemed to be dancing toward a fourth straight win of their own before the Cavs held them to 33.3 percent shooting in the second half and forced nine turnovers.
“We’re going to get to a point where guys understand that you’ve just got to find a way to win,” said Cleveland forward Luol Deng, who shot 0 for 9. “When we get to that point, we’ll have more wins like this. It’s changing a little. Guys are starting to enjoy it and can’t wait for the next game. That’s what happens when you win.”
Detroit’s fourth-quarter collapse was a fitting conclusion to its pre-All-Star break schedule. It has lost eight games after leading or being tied heading into the final quarter.
“They have an All-Star point guard in Kyrie Irving that can control the game down the stretch,” said Pistons interim coach John Loyer, who is 1-1 after replacing Mo Cheeks, who was fired on Sunday. “They made a big shot. We contested it. You lead for 46 minutes, you expect to win the game.”
Pistons center Andre Drummond, the league’s third-leading rebounder, blamed himself for allowing Thompson to grab two critical offensive rebounds.
“I’ve got to be better down the stretch of the fourth quarter,” he said.
Forward Josh Smith led the Pistons (22-30) with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Drummond contributed 16 points and 17 rebounds. Forward Greg Monroe added 16 points and nine rebounds and swingman Kyle Singler chipped in 12 points.
Detroit guard Rodney Stuckey, who scored four points, played only one minute of the second half after experiencing dizziness.
NOTES: Cleveland C Anderson Varejao missed his second consecutive game with a sore back. … Detroit C Andre Drummond’s 39 double-doubles are the most by a Piston since Grant Hill posted 44 in 1995-96. “He’s just scratched the surface,” Pistons interim coach John Loyer said of Drummond. “His surface so far has been pretty good.” … The Pistons play a home-and-home against Charlotte, one of the teams they are battling for a playoff spot, upon returning from the All-Star break on Tuesday. The Cavs open their post-All Star break schedule at Philadelphia the same night. … The Pistons are 10-4 at home when shooting at least 45 percent. … Cleveland has used 15 lineups and started 13 players, while Detroit has used only five lineups and eight starters. … PF Tristan Thompson is the only Cavaliers player to appear in every game. … The Cavaliers’ last victory over the Pistons had been a 101-100 thriller on Feb. 21, 2012.
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.