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CLEVELAND -- With less than six minutes remaining and his club trailing by seven points, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott replaced his most effective player with a rookie point guard searching for his rhythm and jump shot.
Without context the decision sounds indefensible, and it's certainly one Miami's Erik Spoelstra or Boston's Doc Rivers won't have to make anytime soon. But Scott's objective is more complex, his balancing act more delicate than many of his peers this season.
The Cavaliers coach is simultaneously trying to win games and develop youngsters. Sometimes, those desires intersect to form peculiar moments like the one Monday night as Ramon Session, the game's leading scorer, was subbed out for 19-year-old Kyrie Irving, who had hit 1-of-8 shots to that point.
It wasn't an exhibition or a meaningless late-season game, but the opener in front of a sellout crowd. Scott said he's sure some fans second-guessed the move in the Cavaliers' 104-96 loss to the Raptors.
But it's one the coach made after mulling it for more than two minutes.
"It's a developmental thing right now," Scott said. "I've got to get [Irving] used to closing out games, and I have to find out what he has, what he's made of when the games are on the line in situations like that."
In his 12th season as an NBA coach, Scott estimates it's just the third or fourth time he's replaced a hot hand -- Session had 18 points and six assists -- in favor of a player on the learning curve. It's one thing for coaches to say they want to cultivate rookies. It's another to do it with a game on the line.
Of course, Irving isn't some kid fresh from the NBA Development League. He's the top pick in the June draft, and one of the Cavaliers' future cornerstones. Irving finished the night with six points on 2-of-12 shooting, while adding seven assists.
"I can sit here and put two minutes on the clock [at practice] and say we're down four," Scott said. "It still doesn't simulate what you are going to go through when the game is on the line and you've got 17,000 people in the stands as well. As many times as he can be put in that situation the better off he will be."
How will it play with season-ticket holders or the veterans who hear the horn and see Irving or Tristan Thompson, 20, trotting onto the floor?
Sessions, who's spent much of his four seasons as a reserve, said he understands what the Cavaliers are doing. He offered no objection Tuesday to Scott's late-game decision.
"That's what the young fella is here for," Sessions said. "He started the game, and he is going to finish it. The young fella is really talented. You guys have seen that. That's his job."
Almost immediately after entering the game with 5:28 left Irving launched a long jumper his coach termed a "rookie mistake." Nevertheless, Scott liked that the point guard wanted the ball and wasn't afraid of the moment.
Irving converted 1-of-4 shots down the stretch along with three assists, a turnover, and a steal.41.50438 -81.69044
Cleveland coach Byron Scott trying to win games, develop players.