Kyrie Irving scored 33 points and made a key steal in the closing seconds, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers --without resting LeBron James -- to a 99-98 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night.
James was given the night off by coach Tyronn Lue as part of his plans to keep Cleveland's starters fresh for the playoffs. The Cavs hardly missed their star until the Mavericks stormed back from an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Dallas had several chances to take the lead, but the Mavericks missed two open 3-pointers and had a costly turnover before Irving swiped a pass intended for Dirk Nowitzki with 2.9 seconds left. Irving was fouled and made two free throws before Dallas' Deron Williams hit a 3-pointer at the final horn to conclude a frenzied finish.
Kevin Love had 23 points and 18 rebounds for the Cavs, who are 4-12 in games without James over the past two seasons.
Nowitzki and David Lee scored 20 apiece for the Mavericks, losers of six of seven. Dallas came in tied with Houston for the seventh playoff spot in the Western Conference. J.J. Barea scored 17 points and fueled the Mavericks' comeback in the fourth.
The Cavs used a pit stop at home to give James a break. Cleveland just returned from a four-game trip out West and the Cavs will hit the road again later this week to play Orlando and Miami. Lue said he intends to play James in both games in Florida and wanted to take advantage of the schedule to give James three full days of rest.
As James sipped a Gatorade while sitting on the last seat on the bench, the Cavs scored the first 15 points in the second quarter to build a 20-point lead.
Irving, Love and Channing Frye scored all of Cleveland points during a 19-2 spurt and the Cavs appeared to be on their way to an easy win. But as has been the case all season, they lost their focus and Dallas climbed back in it.
Lee scored on a three-point play and Nowitzki drained a 3-pointer to cap a 15-0 run that helped the Mavericks close within 57-51 at halftime.
But the Cavs regained control by outscoring the Mavericks 17-3 to open the third quarter and carried a 16-point lead into the fourth.
Dallas trailed 89-71 before reeling off 11 straight points and the Mavericks were in position to pull out the win before their misfires and miscues in the last 2 minutes.