Cavaliers declaw Bobcats in 27-point rout
CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving spent the fourth quarter on the bench watching and relaxing with the other starters.
No need for any heroics from the All-Star guard this time.
The Cavaliers finally rolled to an easy win the way they used to on a regular basis when LeBron James was Cleveland’s hard-court king.
Irving scored 22 points in just three quarters, rookie Dion Waiters added 19 and the Cavs didn’t overlook a team with a worse record than their own by clobbering the Charlotte Bobcats 122-95. It was Cleveland’s most lopsided win since May 7, 2010 — James’ last victory with the Cavaliers.
“It was the first game that I can remember that I got a chance to sit down in the fourth quarter without it being the other way,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said following the unusual blowout, the biggest during his three seasons in Cleveland. “So that was a good feeling.”
The Cavs were coming off a stunning upset of Oklahoma City, one of the league’s best teams. It would have been easy to take the lowly Bobcats (11-37) for granted, but Cleveland came out energized from the start, built a 33-point lead after three quarters and sent Charlotte to its 11th loss in 13 games.
“This was one of those games where I was really curious to see if we learned from some of our past mistakes and if we’ve grown as a basketball team, and I can say we definitely have,” Scott said. “It’s just a matter of now just keeping it going.”
Tristan Thompson scored 17 for the young-and-improving Cavs, who are 8-9 since Jan. 1.
“It definitely shows that we’re making steps in the right direction,” said Irving, who scored 35 — 13 in the final 2:52 — against the Thunder. “We’re getting better every single game. To come out here and just play the second half the way we wanted to, and the way we finished the first half and continue to execute offensively and defensively, shows that we’re making strides.”
Byron Mullens scored 15 to pace Charlotte. Bobcats leading scorer Kemba Walker, averaging 17.8 points per game, had just five on 2-of-11 shooting.
Scott was eager to see how his team would respond after Cleveland’s stunning win over the talent-thick Thunder. While trying not to disrespect the Bobcats, Scott said before tipoff that “this is a game we should win … this is the game you should be the most worried about as a basketball player.”
As it turned out, the Cavs had no concerns and coasted to their biggest win since James and the Cavs beat Boston 124-95 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2010.
By halftime, Cleveland was ahead by 28 points, shooting 62 percent from the floor and coasting toward a rare laugher. Irving, Thompson and Waiters went a combined 17 of 23 from the field in the first half as the Bobcats appeared as if they couldn’t wait to get on the plane back to North Carolina.
The Cavs kept it up in the third quarter, pushing their lead to 33 entering the fourth. Cleveland came in averaging 96 points per game and had 100 by the end of the three, allowing Scott to rest Irving and the rest of his starters for the final 12 minutes.
At the break, Scott recalled how the great Los Angeles Lakers teams he played on with Magic Johnson would put away weaker teams at will.
“We talked about it before games. `This is a team we should beat by 30, and in the fourth quarter I don’t want to be playing,'” Scott said “That was one of Magic’s statements: I don’t want to play in the fourth quarter. That means we’ve got to come out and bury these guys. I told our guys: You’ve got to think that same way. Don’t think about we’re up 24 at halftime, think about being down 24.
“We’ve got to come out with that same aggressiveness to try to put this team away. I thought our guys did that pretty much.”
The Bobcats went 0-5 on a brutal five-game, 10-day trip in which they also lost rookie forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a concussion.
Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap wasn’t pleased with his team’s finish to the trip.
“There are three or four of those that happen to you,” Dunlap said. “They’re not pretty. Obviously the physical effort is unacceptable. We don’t like that.”
Thompson, a natural left-hander who has shown a deft touch with his right, scored on consecutive short right-handed jumpers in the lane and dropped three free throws — with his left — as the Cavs reeled off 14 straight points to open 21-point lead in the second.
NOTES: Irving made all five of his 3-pointers. … Cleveland had a season-high 33 assists and a season-low six turnovers. … Scott said he’ll have no problem with the decision if Miami coach Erik Spoelstra chooses to start Chris Bosh in the All-Star game rather than Irving. “He’s the coach,” Scott said. “He’s earned that right to pick who he wants.” … Kidd-Gilchrist sustained his concussion Saturday in Houston. Before he can play again, he must pass neurological tests under the league’s concussion protocol. The earliest he can return is Friday at home against the Lakers. Dunlap said the rookie “feels substantially better. His head is clearer.” … The Bobcats fell to 1-14 all-time in Cleveland.