Kyrie Irving returns, Cavaliers dominate Pacers 98-87
BY EDDIE DILWORTH
After missing the previous three games while recovering from a concussion, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving said he was fresh for Wednesday night's matchup with the Indiana Pacers.
A fresh Irving spelled a stale night for the Pacers as the Cavs manhandled Indiana, 98-87 in Quicken Loans Arena.
"I'm 100 percent and it doesn't mean because I had a prior concussion that my game is going to change in any way," Irving said. "Same aggressiveness, that's all."
Irving suffered the concussion during the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers game at Miami on Feb. 7 when he fell to the floor and the back of his head collided with Dwayne Wade's knee. The Cavs went 1-2 in Irving's absence and fans in The Q were surely excited to see the front-runner for NBA Rookie of the Year on the floor again.
Irving showed no signs of rust Wednesday. His 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first quarter sparked the Cavs to a 32-20 lead at the end of the period. Irving spun around defenders, welcomed contact as he drove to the basket and showed no lasting effects from his concussion.
"We've always known from day one that he has no fear," Scott said. "It wasn't surprising to me that his first shot was going to be an aggressive, attack the hole type shot, so I wasn't surprised at all. It was just good to see him back out there on the floor playing the way we know he's capable of playing."
Irving finished with 22 points, five assists and three rebounds. Despite Anderson Varejao's likelihood to miss significant time with a fractured wrist, Irving doesn't feel that more pressure is heaped on his shoulders with Varejao out.
"Obviously we don't wish an injury upon anybody, but (with) Andy going down, it gives everybody else an opportunity to step up, along with myself," Irving said.
After Irving's solid first quarter, the Cavs stretched their 12-point first quarter lead in the second. Cleveland started the second quarter on a 6-2 run and were only getting started. When Antawn Jamison converted a layup with 8:11 remaining until halftime, the Cavs took a 43-23 lead and never looked back.
"It was probably one of the better halves we've had on both ends of the floor," Scott said.
Cavs center Semih Erden drew his second consecutive start in place of Varejao and produced his best game as a pro. Erden finished with a career-high 18 points and a season-high eight rebounds.
"Semih played with the energy we've been talking about and just played a lot more efficient on the offensive and the defensive end," Scott said.
After a dissapointing effort against Philadelphia on Saturday in which he did not score, Erden could have fallen out of favor with the Cavs head coach. But Scott said he would give Erden another shot because he thought Erden's matchup with 7-foot-2 Indiana center Roy Hibbert was favorable.
"I think it was a result of them moving the basketball really well," Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said on Erden's performance. "Irving got him involved with a lot of stuff and our coverage on pick and rolls wasn't that strong."
Cavs guard Daniel Gibson left the game in the third quarter with a left ankle sprain after landing on Pacers guard Paul George's foot following a 3-point attempt. He did not return and finished with eight points and three assists. X-rays on his ankle were negative.
Indiana never led in the contest and seemed to be lost from the start without leading scorer Danny Granger. Granger tested his sprained left ankle just before the game, but he was ultimately unable to take the floor against Cleveland. In Granger's absence, the Pacers shot just 30 percent in the first half and recorded only two assists as a team before halftime.
Pacers guard Darren Collison led Indiana with 18 points. Hibbert added 17 points and eight rebounds to Indiana's cause, but Irving shined the brightest Wednesday.
"To see Kyrie come out there, it didn't look like he missed a beat," Scott said. "(He) just looked really fresh and rejuvenated."
Indiana cut the lead to single digits in the fourth quarter, but were never really in the contest after the first quarter.
"Give credit to Cleveland for playing a better game than we did tonight," Vogel said. "Kyrie Irving was terrific."
Irving and the Cavs welcome the Miami Heat to town for a matchup on Friday.
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