Cavaliers nip Kings 93-92
BY EDDIE DILWORTH
As tightly contested as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings matchup was Sunday evening, the game was likely going to be decided by who made the last mistake.
In the two teams only matchup this season, it was the Kings who made the final blunder which ultimately led to their downfall in a 93-92 squeaker.
"We got a little lucky tonight," Cavs head coach Byron Scott succinctly said.
The Cavs (12-17) trailed 92-91 with 2.9 seconds remaining in the game after Kings center DeMarcus Cousins spun around Antawn Jamison for an easy layup. Cleveland immediately took a timeout, usually called by teams in that situation to draw up a play. Scott didn't need a play. His plan was to simply put the ball in his star rookie point guard's hands.
"Give him (Kyrie Irving) the ball and see if he can create a shot," Scott said on his call in the team huddle.
Irving inbounded the ball to Jamison with 2.9 seconds to play. Jamison quickly shoveled the ball back to Irving, who found himself at the top of the key in a one-on-one matchup with Kings guard Tyreke Evans. Seemingly every fan in Quicken Loans Arena was on their feet and as Irving drove the lane, Evans reached out and grabbed him. The whistle was blown with 0.4 seconds showing, the crowd erupted and so did Kings head coach Keith Smart.
"I can't answer that," Smart replied after the game when asked about the call. "My wife would be mad at me. I saw a good defensive play."
After the whistle, Smart was visibly upset with the called foul and let the referees know it. The Kings coach nearly wore a trench in front of the Kings bench from pacing back and forth so much. Irving on the other hand, calmly stepped to the line and sank both free throws. The Q was rocking and the Cavs had a 93-92 lead.
"We had enough time where we thought he could get it and take a dribble or two," Scott said. "Luckily for us, Mr. Evans decided to foul him."
The Kings (10-21) had one last chance with 0.4 seconds showing on the clock, but were unable to get a shot off before time expired.
Irving finished with a game-high 23 points and rebuffed the late pressure as he stepped to the line.
"I just imagined myself back in my backyard, honestly, shooting my free throws," Irving said. "I practice them almost every day with Coach Scott and it was just a routine thing."
Irving, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, was in a battle the entire evening with the last pick in the 2011 Draft, fellow point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas was spectacular throughout the course of the game in his second-career start. The dubbed "Mr. Irrelevant" set career-highs in points (23), assists (11) and rebounds (eight), nearly messing around and getting a triple-double.
"They did a great job tonight, especially playing against the point guard Isaiah Thomas," Irving said. "He almost had a triple-double tonight. It just showed why our class is stepping up, so it was an impressive performance by him."
Thomas admitted that playing against the first-overall draft pick was on his mind.
"It's in my head," Thomas said. "I would be lying if I said it wasn't. He was the number one pick, I was the last pick. I mean why not? That's extra motivation. He's a great player."
Tristan Thompson, the Cavs other standout rookie, also had a solid night off the bench. Thompson, who missed a few games this month with a sprained ankle, appears to be fully healed as he recorded his first career double-double against Sacramento. Thompson finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high tying three blocked shots.
"I think the ankle is starting to get to a point where it's not a problem," Scott said. "He's not thinking about it so he can just go out there and play."
Thompson put his injury in perspective.
"Whenever you go down (from injury), especially as a rookie, you just have to get your groove back," Thompson said.
Jamison scored 21 points to go along with eight rebounds. Cavs forward Omri Casspi scored six points with a career-high 12 rebounds while Ramon Sessions chipped in 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Alonzo Gee added nine points and nine rebounds.
Evans didn't agree with the foul that was called on him in the final seconds.
"I hit the ball, but they called a foul, so (there's) nothing I can do about it," Evans said. "In a game like that, I think that's a bad call, but hey, we have to move on."
Evans finished with 10 points and five rebounds. Cousins totaled 19 points and nine rebounds. Sacramento forward Marcus Thornton scored 21 points with 10 rebounds.
Irving wasn't only electric at the end of the game. The rook' produced 17 points in the first half, in which he was 6-of-10 from the field and 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. Irving's Cavaliers trailed after the first quarter 31-27, but came back to secure a slim 50-49 lead at halftime.
"I thought we were kind of messing around in the first half and in the second half that team had a lot of confidence that they could win the game and we tried to turn it on," Scott said. "Like I've said, you can't just turn it on and off, so I thought we got lucky."
The Cavs are now 3-3 on their franchise-long home stand. Game seven of the nine-game home stand for the Cavs is Tuesday versus the Detroit Pistons.
email@example.com or follow Eddie on Twitter @EDilworth