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February 3, 2013

Irving’s hot hand leads Cavaliers past OKC

CLEVELAND  — Kyrie Irving wasn’t just interested. He was incredible.

With one shot better than his last, Irving scored 35 points, including 13 in the final 2:52, as the Cleveland Cavaliers stunned the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-110 on Saturday.

One night after saying he was “disinterested” during a loss in Detroit, Irving was simply spectacular down the stretch. He single-handedly closed out one of the NBA’s best teams, making his last five shots and showing why he’s an All-Star at age 20. Irving’s biggest bucket was a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left to make it 113-108.

“He’s a killer,” said newly acquired Cavs forward Marreese Speights, who added 21 points. “I knew a little about him, I didn’t know THAT.”

Kevin Durant scored 32 points and Russell Westbrook had 28 for the Thunder, who came in 35-11 and with the league’s best road record. Durant left briefly in the third quarter with an injured rib, but returned and scored 13 in the fourth.

However, it wasn’t enough to offset Irving, who sent the Thunder home with a loss.

“He’s one of the best in the business,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Give him a lot of credit.”

Tristan Thompson added 12 rebounds and C.J. Miles scored 16 for the Cavs, who had played poorly in consecutive losses this week to Golden State and Detroit.

Irving was so frustrated with the Cavs’ lackluster effort on Friday night against the Pistons that afterward he admitted to not being as involved as he should have been. Before facing the Thunder, he promised it would never happen again and the reigning rookie of the year more than kept his word.

With the Cavs trailing 101-100, Irving, who sat out the first 6:12 of the fourth, drew a foul and hit two free throws. On Cleveland’s next possession, he drove and dropped a layup to make it 104-101. Durant’s two free throws brought the Thunder within one, but Irving, dribbling between his legs and around Oklahoma City’s defenders, hit a floater from the baseline.

Westbrook scored seconds later, and after Thompson scored for Cleveland, Durant coolly buried a 3-pointer to tie it at 108 with 1:26 remaining.

Then, with a sold-out Quicken Loans quaking the way it once did when LeBron James starred here, Irving dribbled through the lane, bought some room with a ridiculous hesitation move and hit another layup. Durant missed a 3-pointer with 59 seconds left, giving Irving a chance to ice it.

And that he did, burying a long 3 from the top of the key over Westbrook before clenching both fists in celebration.

“I never know what shot I’m going to take,” said Irving, who was just 1 of 7 to start the game. “I saw him back on his heels a little bit.”

Durant got the Thunder to 113-110 but Irving did it again, this time knocking down a 12-foot bank shot to cap a performance none of the 20,562 fans on hand will soon forget — and one Irving hopes to draw upon in the future.

“It’s my responsibility as a leader of this team to do this every single night,” he said. “It has to come from within.”

The Thunder surrendered in the final seconds, and after the horn sounded, Westbrook wrapped his arms around Irving, who had gotten the best of him.

“He came through in the fourth quarter,” Durant said. “He hit some big shots. He hit a tough 3. He was getting to the rim. He’s a quick guy.”

having any carryover effect.

Westbrook left before speaking with reporters.

Durant finished just 8 of 21 from the floor. He had several shots rim out in the first half, when he went just 3 of 10. His three-point play with three seconds left gave the Thunder a 57-52 lead at the break.

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