CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving rebounded from his first career scoreless night with 20 points and six assists and the Cavaliers beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night, 88-82, in a strange night that included a near brawl and a fan on the court,
Tristan Thompson had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Andrew Bynum had 18 points and six rebounds and the Cavs improved to 3-3 against the powerful Western Conference while remaining just 4-10 against the weak East. They also continue to play much better at home than on the road, a typical sign of a young team still figuring out how to play together.
Play was stopped in the first half when a boy ran out on the court, reportedly wearing a T-shirt asking Irving not to leave. Of course, the Cavs endured a similar stunt last year when a fan ran on the court during a game against the Miami Heat asking LeBron James to return next summer. Irving is under the Cavs’ control for another two seasons.
As for the game, the Clippers took a brief 66-64 lead near the end of the third quarter on a 3-pointer from Jamal Crawford — the Clippers’ first lead since early in the game — but Jarrett Jack’s ensuing half-court heave at the buzzer reclaimed a 67-66 lead entering the fourth. The Cavs followed with the first six points of the fourth quarter and eventually extended the lead to 11 before holding on in the final minute.
Players had to be separated with 2:21 left in the game when Anderson Varejao threw a shoulder into Blake Griffin, which Griffin didn’t appreciate and responded by shoving Varejao to the ground. Then he started going after him and had to be restrained by teammates and officials while Varejao laid on his back laughing.
Varejao was given a personal foul, Griffin and Jack were given technicals and the game resumed.
Irving rebounded nicely from Friday’s miserable performance in Atlanta. He made his first shot early in the first quarter, snapping a string of five scoreless quarters and 14 consecutive misses.
Irving entered the game averaging less than 20 points per game and shooting less than 40 percent, but coach Mike Brown isn’t so worried about the numbers and wants Irving to keep firing.
“I don’t care if he goes 0-for-30, I want him to keep being aggressive,” Brown said. “If he misses five in a row and he feels like he can get a great look on his next one, take it and I’ll back him. I’ll support him.
“I just don’t want him to lose his aggressiveness on that end of the floor because we need him to score.”
Facing some of the league’s top point guards seemed to inspire Irving in the past and perhaps it did again Saturday as he was facing the Clippers’ Chris Paul. Clippers coach Doc Rivers called Irving and Chris Paul the game’s two best ball handlers.
Paul had 13 points and 15 assists Saturday but shot just 4-of-16. Griffin had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I saw him at Duke and I knew he was a good shooter, but I never thought he was a great shooter. He is a great shooter,” Rivers said. “Unfortunately for him, he’s trying to figure out new players, a new system almost every year for that matter for him with all the new players.
“I think that’s very difficult for a young point guard.”