CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving was sick all right — as in being ill and in the slang sense of being incredible.
After missing practice a day earlier and almost staying home from the game, Irving scored 39 points as the Cavaliers avoided what would have been a horrendous loss by beating the Milwaukee Bucks 114-111 in overtime Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I’m not going to lie,” Irving said. “I’m tired. I really just want to lay down.”
Irving, who also had three rebounds, six assists and a career-high four blocks in 42 minutes, scored (10) or assisted (8) on all 18 Cleveland points in the five-minute OT.
Not bad considering he didn’t decide to jump into his car and head to the arena until 5:15 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
“I was going to stay at home,” the 21-year-old said. “(But) a big goal of mine is to play all 82 (games).”
As great as Irving was, the Cavs (10-15) needed a tip-in by Tristan Thompson and a missed jumper by Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton to avoid losing to a Bucks team that has the worst record in the NBA (5-21) and was minus five of its top players.
Down 96-94, the Cavs took a timeout with 8.8 seconds to play in regulation. Irving got the inbounds pass and missed a highly contested drive, but no one blocked out Thompson (10 points, 15 rebounds), who tipped the ball in with his right hand.
“He missed a layup he usually makes — acrobatic, in the air,” Thompson said. “I just had to attack the glass and squeeze the ball into the rim.”
The Cavs still weren’t out of the woods. After a Milwaukee timeout, Middleton hit front rim on a too-open 19-foot jumper at the buzzer.
Thompson’s tip might have been irrelevant, too, if Brandon Knight (17 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists) had not had a jumper go in and out on Milwaukee’s previous possession.
“We haven’t been able to get over the hump,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said after his shorthanded team lost in OT for the second straight game.
Irving, who was 13-for-25 from the field and 11-for-12 from the line, scored the first six points of overtime on a pair of 3-pointers and the Cavs never trailed.
“I thought he looked gassed a little bit in the second half,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “I said, ‘Are you all right?’ He gave me that boyish smile. Once he gave me that smile, I knew he was all right.”
After Irving hit a pair of free throws to put Cleveland up three with 10.3 seconds to go, O.J. Mayo (20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) missed two 3-pointers on the Bucks’ final possession, the second a totally wide-open look from the top of the arc.
Prior to that, extremely hard-working Milwaukee, which started Miroslav Raduljica at center and Giannis Antetokounmpo at shooting guard, had gotten clutch threes from Middleton and Mayo to nearly overcome a five-point deficit in the final 40 seconds of OT.
“It’s heart-wrenching when the other team is making shots and you want to close out the game,” Irving said. “You’ve got to give credit to them.”
It wasn’t the most impressive win for the Cavs, who played without Dion Waiters (right wrist tendinitis, traveled to Chicago for a game tonight) and Anthony Bennett (ill, did not travel), but it was better than the alternative.
Milwaukee not only has the worst record in the 30-team NBA, it was playing without Caron Butler (sore knee), Larry Sanders (thumb surgery), Zaza Pachulia (fractured foot), Ersan Ilyasova (sprained ankle) and Carlos Delfino (foot surgery).
The play-to-the-level-of-the-opponent Cavs, however, did their part to keep the Bucks in the game.
Cleveland looked like it was going to take care of business early, as it went on a 19-2 run to go up 25-14 in the first period, but Milwaukee came right back with a 12-0 spurt.
The Bucks found themselves in a 47-47 game at halftime despite shooting a woeful .333 from the field (17-for-51). That’s because the sleepwalking Cavs weren’t much better, hitting at a .383 clip (18-for-47) — Andrew Bynum was 2-for-10 — and committing nine turnovers that led to 16 Bucks points.
Cleveland never did get any serious separation on a night when Bynum finished 3-for-14 from the field, but Irving came to the rescue in overtime, when he either scored or assisted on big buckets by Jarrett Jack (17 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists) and Earl Clark (14 points).
Irving was so sick — figuratively and literally — that there were even reports he had vomited on the bench during a timeout.
“I was this close,” he said, holding his thumb and index finger an inch apart. “I was holding it back.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.