(ABC)–Kyrie Irving scored 11 of his 23 points in overtime, including a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 35 seconds left, and the Cleveland Cavaliers edged the Washington Wizards 140-135 in a playoff-type atmosphere Monday night.
The loud, sellout crowd was standing, and so were the players on both benches, when LeBron James somehow missed a gimme layup late in the fourth quarter. Moments later, he banked in a maximum-degree-of-difficulty, step-back 3 with 0.3 seconds left to send the game overtime, where he fouled out and Irving took over for Cleveland.
James finished 32 points and a career-high 17 assists. Kevin Love had 39 points and 12 rebounds for the Eastern Conference leaders, who ended surging Washington’s winning streaks of 17 in a row at home and seven in a row overall.
Bradley Beal had 41 points and eight assists for the Wizards, but he missed a potential tying 3 with about 5 seconds left in overtime. John Wall, who squared off with Irving in a duel between All-Star point guards, had 22 points and 12 assists, while Otto Porter scored 25.
James fouled out 47 seconds into OT, having left his mark with an early two-handed dunk over Markieff Morris that drew many cheers from the 20,356 spectators and his “He did what?!”, land-out-of-bounds, off-the-glass tying 3-pointer at the end of the fourth quarter that drew plenty of gasps. The four-time NBA MVP hadn’t been whistled for six fouls in a game since January 2014.
This game also was notable for this: James became the first player in NBA history to rank in the top 20 in points (eighth), assists (13th) and steals (20th).
It was a back-and-forth contest, with little runs by each team, plenty of offense, lapses on defense, a lot of complaints about the officiating by folks on both sides and a couple of technical fouls.
All in a hyped-up atmosphere that seemed more like May than the first week of February. The high-quality late fourth quarter included this particularly frenetic and terrific stretch: Wall jumper, James 3, Wall drive, James 3, Beal 3, Porter 3, James 3. That made it 110-all with 2:40 remaining.
With 12.2 seconds left, the Wizards led 118-117. James then drove past Wall and had a wide-open layup, but the ball rolled around the rim and out. Two free throws by Wall made it 120-117 with 3.4 ticks to go. But James took a length-of-the-court pass, stepped behind the arc and banked in a tying 3 with less than a half-second remaining.
This game felt like a measuring stick for the Wizards, who have been as good as it gets lately. They entered with the NBA’s best record over the past month, 14-2. They had those winning streaks going, at home and overall. And this was a chance to show that the current version of the club in the nation’s capital could hang with the defending champions.
Not surprisingly, Washington coach Scott Brooks refused to make a big deal about it.
“I don’t talk about the standings,” Brooks said before tipoff. “We still have 32 games to go, and I’ve told the guys from Day 1 we’re going to focus on doing our job every day and keep it that way.”