NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers 99, Dallas Mavericks 98 — Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love Step Up As LeBron James Sits Out

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue sat both LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov as the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. While every game matters for Dallas, as they could easily finish the season anywhere from 6th to 9th place in the NBA Western Conference, Cleveland needed to prove that they have the ability to beat an NBA Playoff-caliber team while relying on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to lead the team without King James. Both men stepped up with big performances in a game where the Mavericks never had the lead.

With a 16-point lead going into the fourth quarter, the Cavs obviously didn’t get off to a very good start for the last 12 minutes. But when it really mattered, Kyrie proved that he could take control of the game. Hitting all four of his fourth-quarter free throws, Irving made a key layup with less than five minutes to play that put the Cavs up by seven, which Dallas was never able to overcome. When the Mavs got within two points, Kyrie Irving scored another key lay-up followed by a blocked shot 20 seconds later. With a two-point lead, Kyrie tallied a steal and the subsequent free throws made it virtually impossible for Dallas to retaliate.

Considering that Cleveland sat out both LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov, two regular starters who log very significant minutes, it shows that players like Channing Frye and Matthew Dellavedova can come off the bench to support Love and Irving when they’re making up for LeBron’s absence.

Kevin Love logged the only double-double of the game with 23 points and an incredible 18 rebounds. He led the Cavaliers with two blocked shots, five made free throws, and six free throw attempts earned.

Aside from demonstrating his value as a clutch player, Kyrie Irving had a game-high 33 points along with five rebounds and a flawless 4-of-4 from the free throw line. This is the kind of performance the Cavaliers will need out of Irving if they get another chance to play Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

For the Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki had an impressive game, with a team-high 20 points and a game-high three blocked shots. Up against both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, Dirk was limited to just four rebounds on the night.

Coming off the bench for Dallas, David Lee and J.J. Barea were good for a combined 37 points, six rebounds, and five assists.

After playing the NBA East-leading Cavs on Wednesday night, the Mavericks will go home to host the defending NBA Champions Golden State Warriors. Currently sitting in 8th place in the Western Conference, the Mavericks are one game behind 6th place Portland Blazers and 1.5 games ahead of 9th place Utah Jazz.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers remain 2.5 games in front of 2nd place Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference. On Friday, the Cavs travel to Orlando to face the 11th place Magic.

[Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]