Kyrie Irving scores a career-high 26 points to lead Cavs to victory over the Suns

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This was supposed to be the soft part of the schedule for Phoenix. Kyrie Irving made sure that it wasn’t.

The number one overall pick in the NBA draft showed why he was taken there, scoring a career-best 26 points and keying a second-quarter run that erased the Suns’ six-point lead, and put the Cavaliers ahead for good on the way to a 101-90 victory at the US Airways Center in Phoenix on Thursday.

Irving started slowly, with just four points in seven first-quarter minutes. But he absolutely took this game over in the second quarter, scoring 12 straight points once he checked back in to turn a six-point deficit into a six-point lead that the Cavs would never relinquish.

“I was basically just feeding off my teammates,” Irving said, being much too humble considering his performance during that stretch. “They were going under the screen, I was just taking what the defense gave me and being aggressive. My teammates had the confidence in me to keep on feeding me the ball and telling me to keep going, so that’s what I did.”

As the Suns went under the screens time and again, Irving made them pay. Only the last basket of his personal run came in the paint; the rest were all jumpers, including two three-pointers. Irving talked about how teams are respecting his drive more, which has led to his being more open for the outside shot. But most importantly, he seemed to realize from the bench that he needed to be the one to provide the spark to turn the game in his team’s favor once he re-entered the game.

“I felt that it was just a time to be a lot more aggressive,” Irving said of his second-quarter offensive explosion. “First quarter is where you feel out what the defense is, second quarter I told myself when I went back in I was just going to be aggressive — for my teammates first, and then myself. It happened to be when I was making a few shots, we got the lead and we never looked back.”

Steve Nash had a typically strong game numbers-wise, finishing with 16 points and 15 assists. But there was only so much he could do as his team was killed on the glass, giving up 15 offensive rebounds that resulted in 20 second chance points. Irving talked about how it felt to go up against one of the league’s best at his position.

“It was definitely fun, playing against a great point guard such as Steve Nash,” he said. “I’ve been watching him for so long, now that I’m finally playing against him, it’s a little surreal. But once you’re out there, you’re in the game. I’m a competitor as well as he is. He’s still doing the things he’s done through his whole entire career — 16 points, 15 assists — it’s impressive. It was an honor playing against him.”

On this night, Irving was even more impressive. He finished 11-of-17 from the field, added six assists, and single-handedly made the plays necessary to turn the game around. From there, Anderson Varejao grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds, the Cavs played some excellent defense (especially against the Suns’ second unit) and forced Phoenix into plenty of bad possessions. Cleveland held the Suns to just 60 points over the game’s final three quarters.

One bright spot for Phoenix was the play of Michael Redd, who made his Suns debut to the tune of 12 points in just over 19 minutes. Redd drained his first two shots, both of which were wide open threes from the corner that he didn’t hesitate for a second to knock down. Redd said afterward he felt great, and that his wind was better than expected. He just needs to continue to acclimate himself to what the Suns are trying to do offensively, and he should be a strong contributor for the team as the season progresses.

Thursday, however, belonged to Kyrie Irving. Phoenix had won three straight at home fairly easily, and hoped to get above .500 with back-to-back home games against Cleveland and New Jersey before heading out on a brutal five-game road trip against some of the league’s elite teams.

Irving’s second quarter changed all that.

Why is Robin Lopez holding this dog during his exit interview? (VIDEO)

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What did Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez have to say during his exit interviews? I can’t really tell, it’s all a bunch of white noise. All I see is him holding his giant, shaggy dog named Muppet while speaking to reporters.

I can’t get over it, really. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Lopez is the perfect candidate to do this if you think about it, given his propensity to be a little off-kilter.

Via Twitter:

Lopez was mostly talking about taking away positives from a weird Bulls season in which they struggled all year until miraculously making the 8-seed before challenging top-ranked Boston in round 1.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES  (AP) – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.