CLEVELAND — The “MVP” chants from many in the announced crowd of 14,192 were over the top, but “East All-Star” would have been perfect.
With today being the last day East coaches can submit their votes for the seven reserves, Kyrie Irving made his case with 40 points Tuesday night as the Cavaliers defeated the aging Boston Celtics 95-90 at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I thought it was pretty loud and clear tonight,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said when asked about the statement his point guard made.
The 6-foot-3 Irving, who was 16-for-24 from the field, had 19 points in the first period on 8-for-10 shooting and 15 more in the fourth on 6-for-9. Eleven came in the final 2:31.
It was enough for the Cavs (11-32) to beat the struggling Celtics (20-21), who lost their fourth straight, but whether it was enough for Irving to make the All-Star team won’t be known until the reserves are announced Thursday night.
At least one coach has already voted for Irving: Boston’s Doc Rivers. But despite Irving’s numbers — 23.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists — it was not an easy choice for Rivers because of Cleveland’s record, which was the second-worst in the NBA when he cast his vote.
“Absolutely,” Rivers said when asked if he voted for Irving. “It’s amazing how hard that was, though. A guy with 10 wins, well, 11, it’s a hard one for me. But he’s just playing so well.
“I think it’s going to be close, though. I think it will be very close for him. I don’t do that very often (vote for a player on a bad team), I can tell you that.”
Scott, who can’t vote for his own player, readily acknowledged Cleveland’s lousy record might hurt Irving’s chances, but said the 20-year-old’s talent and productivity should ultimately trump that.
“If you look at the point guards in the Eastern Conference, name me one that’s having a better season,” Scott said. “I’ll wait.”
About the only person at The Q who didn’t openly campaign for Irving was Irving, who has said all along he’ll let his game speak for itself.
“If I’m picked, great,” he said. “If not, I’ll continue to work hard.”
With only 10 players available after making a trade with Memphis earlier in the day, the Cavs got major work out of their 2011 draft class.
In addition to No. 1 pick Irving, No. 4 selection Tristan Thompson tied a season high with 21 points while adding nine rebounds and five assists. He and Irving combined for 39 points in the first half.
“Right now, he’s just oozing with confidence,” Scott said of Thompson.
The 2012 class wasn’t nearly as productive, as No. 4 pick Dion Waiters started at shooting guard in place of an ill C.J. Miles and had seven points on 3-for-12 shooting, while No. 17 choice Tyler Zeller had six points on 2-for-10 shooting before fouling out.
In Zeller’s defense, he battled hard all night and added 10 rebounds and four assists, while small forward Alonzo Gee had 10 points and six boards and veteran Luke Walton had seven points, three rebounds and a season-high seven assists in just 18 minutes off the bench.
Point guard Rajon Rondo, also in the discussion to make the East All-Star team, led Boston with 17 points, a season-high-tying 13 rebounds and eight assists, while Ohio State product Jared Sullinger, who had a huge cheering section behind the Celtics bench, got off to a tremendous start before fouling out with 12 points and 10 boards.
Boston, however, could not overcome a horrid 3-for-15 shooting night by 35-year-old Paul Pierce, while 36-year-old Kevin Garnett went 5-for-13 and had just five rebounds in 31 minutes.
After committing two costly turnovers moments earlier, Irving hit a layup to put the Cavs up for good, 84-83, with 2:31 to go.
Boston then missed a jumper and one of its players back-tapped the ball all the way down to Cleveland’s end of the court, where Rondo, falling out of bounds, tried to throw it off Irving’s legs. Instead, Irving caught the ball and went in for a layup to put the Cavs up three with 2:05 remaining.
“Obviously, you don’t throw the ball to Kyrie, but my question to our team was, ‘Where was everyone else?’” Rivers said.
Garnett got the Celtics within one on two occasions by making a pair of free throws, but the Cavs would not be denied, as all 11 of Irving’s points in the final 2½ minutes came on up-tempo drives or free throws.
“That’s us trying to put our foot on their neck,” Scott said of his team’s aggressive approach.
Cleveland also survived a horrible sixth foul call on Zeller, who cleanly blocked Garnett’s shot, and a kicked ball infraction on Thompson down the stretch, all while Irving, whether he intended to or not, sent a final message to East coaches who hadn’t picked their All-Star reserves.
“I was just trying to get a win,” Irving said. “We desperately needed it.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.