Kyrie draws praise, Cavs display growth

CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving’s night began with words of high praise from Luol Deng and LeBron James.
 
It ended with Boston coach Doc Rivers singing the blues.
 
Actually, Rivers showed plenty of admiration for Irving, too. And how could Rivers not? He just watched Irving torch the Celtics for 40 points, lifting the Cavaliers to a 95-90 victory at The Q.
 
“In the fourth quarter, Kyrie Irving happened,” Rivers said, citing Irving’s 11 points in the final 2:32 as a big reason the Cavs were able to pull away.
 
Moments later, Rivers admitted that his not-so-secret ballot for the All-Star game was cast with Irving’s name etched on it.
 
Meanwhile, Miami star James and Chicago forward Deng don’t get to vote. But they do get to express opinions.
 
James did as much on Twitter, saying Irving deserved a spot on the All-Star team.
 
Then there’s Deng, who didn’t mention the All-Star game. He just mentioned All-Star skills.
 
“Man (Irving’s) handles is sick,” Deng wrote. “The basketball is like a yoyo in his hands.”
 
Of course, what’s considerably more important than Irving making the All-Star team is the Cavs’ core continuing to develop.
 
Earlier in the day, general manager Chris Grant attempted to do his part by obtaining forward Marreese Speights, shooting guard Wayne Ellington and point guard Josh Selby (and a future first-round pick) from Memphis. The cost? Forward Jon Leuer, who appeared in a measly nine of 41 games.
 
The league actually approved of this basketball version of armed robbery, which can only be good news, because Grant doesn’t plan to stop seeing what’s out there anytime soon.
 
Anyway, Tristan Thompson did his part, too. Like Irving, Thompson was a top-five pick in the 2011 draft. For a while, he look liked he should’ve been drafted 217th.
 
But more and more, Thompson is resembling a man who Cavs coach Byron Scott can trust, and not just because Thompson has tons of athleticism and length to block or alter opposing shots.
 
Nowadays, Thompson looks fairly competent on the offensive end as well. Not only does he seem to be playing with more confidence and poise, he’s actually developing a real touch. That’s kind of nice, because the Cavs will tell you no one puts in more time than Thompson.
 
And guess what?
 
It paid off big against a Celtics frontcourt that features Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass — a frontcourt that prides itself on defense and a little intimidation. Yet Thompson hit nine of 18 shots, scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed an important nine rebounds.
 
“I’m just understanding the game more,” Thompson explained. “The more games you play, the more minutes you’re on the floor, the more experience you gain.”
 
Some fans never believed Thompson could play this well. Some may not believe he can sustain it.
 
But he’s improving and so are the Cavs (11-32), who have looked better the past two weeks than in any other stretch of the season.
 
That may not sound like much, but it’s what they’ve been aiming for all along. They’ve been aiming for growth.
 
“Overall, I really thought we hung in there and did the things we needed to do,” Scott said. “It’s something to build on.”
 
So the Cavs will continue to build on these types of nights, they’ll continue to re-purpose the roster, they’ll continue to ride Irving and watch Thompson make strides.
 
If they’re fortunate, they’ll be rewarded by having a representative in the All-Star game.
 
But that sort of respect isn’t what they’re aiming for in the long run. They would rather make progress today, contend tomorrow, and have fun along the way.
 
Recently, that’s been the story with this team.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO