NBA: Cavaliers 102, Bobcats 94
By Steve Reed
CHARLOTTE — Rookie Kyrie Irving is making the transition from college to the NBA look pretty easy even though he insists it’s not.
The No. 1 pick in the draft continues to produce big numbers, scoring 25 points and adding seven assists Monday to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 102-94 win over the Charlotte Bobcats. The Cavaliers finished their longest road trip of the season with a 3-4 record.
“It hasn’t been easy,” said Irving, who came into the game averaging 17 points and 5.1 assists per game. “I mean it’s gone pretty well, but it’s definitely not easy. The back-to-back games and the travel, I mean, it’s not an excuse, but it’s something I’m trying to get used to.”
Irving called the transition to pro ball “an ongoing process.”
“Every single day you try to learn something new,” Irving said. “It’s not easy but I’m enjoying this process and that’s the most important thing for me.”
Bobcats coach Paul Silas has been impressed, saying Irving is pretty good now but will be “awesome” in a couple of years once he learns the ins and outs of the NBA game.
Irving has now scored 45 points in his two games against the Bobcats.
“He’s going to be terrific,” said Silas. “He understands the game. He penetrates to the hoop. He can shoot the basketball.”
The Bobcats led 94-93 with less than two minutes to play, but the Cavaliers closed out the game by scoring the final nine points, getting a pair of key inside baskets from Anderson Varejao, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bobcats simply couldn’t hit a shot down the stretch, much like most of the second half.
Antawn Jamison added 20 points and seven rebounds for the Cavs, who returned to .500 on the season at 6-6.
Omri Casspi played a big role in Cleveland’s second half comeback with 14 points and seven rebounds with most of his damage coming in the third quarter.
D.J. Augustin was on fire early for Charlotte, scoring 19 points and handing out six assists in the first half. But he was held to five points in the second half as Irving and others stepped up their defense.
“Like I told them before the game, if we’re going to win this game, one thing we have to do is guard,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. “If we guard, we’ll win the game. The second half, they got 37 points, so we did a great job.”
The Bobcats (3-11) led 57-46 at halftime after shooting a blistering 59.5 percent from the field. Together, Augustin and Charlotte’s reserves were a combined 18 of 22 from the field in the first half. Derrick Brown and D.J. White were both 4 of 4 from the floor as the Bobcats built a nine-point lead.
However, as hot as the Bobcats were in the first half, they were just as cold in the second, shooting 29.5 percent.
They didn’t do much better from the free throw line, converting just 14 of 26 for the game.
“It was a tough one because we did come out with energy in the first half,” said Bobcats forward Gerald Henderson, who had 17 points. “You need to continue that at the start of the third quarter and we didn’t have that great of a third and quarter and that led into the fourth. And we just couldn’t come up with the plays.”
Silas said as a young team the Bobcats still need to make winning plays.
“I think that kind of hits it right on the head,” Henderson said. “When you get in late game situations like that you really have to be sharp and very precise on defense and offense. That’s what winning plays are. We won’t win until we learn how to do those things on a consistent basis.”
The Cavs shot 48.8 percent from the field and pushed their offense into overdrive in the third quarter against the league’s worst defense. The Bobcats came in surrendering 102.2 points per game.
The Bobcats are now 1-1 since turning to the “small ball” lineup of Augustin and Kemba Walker in the backcourt.
They’ve averaged 103 points since Walker replaced Boris Diaw in the lineup after averaging 89 points per game in their first dozen games. After scoring a career-high 23 points in his first start Saturday against Golden State, Walker cooled off against the Cavs, scoring just 14 points on 6 of 21 shooting.
The Cavaliers rebounded from the nine-point deficit in the third quarter, getting a boost from Casspi and Alonzo Gee, who had a driving dunk on the baseline and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to tie the game at 77 near the end of the third quarter.
Scott called Cleveland’s road trip a success.
“I’m not surprised that we competed every night,” Scott said. “I told the guys that if we can come off this 7-game trip with three wins, it’d be pretty good. And we did that. And we had some other close ones, so the road trip pretty much was a success.”
Cavs starting guard Anthony Parker played less than 10 minutes before leaving with a sore lower back. He took only one shot and did not score.
NOTES: Paul Silas talked Monday about how when he was an NBA player he had a chance to meet Martin Luther King Jr. and get his autograph. However, Silas laments that he long ago misplaced the autograph and doesn’t know where it’s gone. … Byron Mullens came into the game averaging 18.5 points per game over his previous four games.
… In his first 83 games, Gerald Henderson averaged just 4.3 points per game, but has averaged 14.5 in the 42 games since.