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).
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