WASHINGTON • In Kyrie Irving's seventh game since breaking his kneecap in Game 1 of the National Basketball Association Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers' guard broke the hearts of the Washington Wizards.
Forward LeBron James scored 34 points, but Irving dazzled in the fourth quarter with 19 of his 32 points, as the Cavaliers beat the Wizards 121-115 on Wednesday.
After surgery in June, Irving returned to Cleveland's line-up on Dec 20. He has now moved beyond mere progress and into jaw-dropping territory for the surging Cavaliers (24-9).
"There will be days when he's better and days when he's going to have some effect of the many months he was out," Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. "But that sure didn't look like that tonight."
James helped the Cavaliers take an 18-point lead by hitting all four of his three-pointers less than four minutes into the third quarter.
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Kyrie Irving's incredible 72.7 per cent shooting in the fourth quarter had those on the receiving end, including J.R. Smith, describing it as "nuts".
The Wizards (15-18) countered with their own barrage from beyond the arc, eventually tying the game 95-95 with 10 minutes and 53 seconds remaining.
Irving dominated from there, scoring the game's next 10 points. His third dazzling lay-up in that stretch gave Cleveland a 105-95 lead with 7:35 left.
Guard J.R. Smith added 25 points for the Cavaliers, who evened the season series after losing 85-97 in Cleveland on Dec 1.
The 85 points from the previous meeting represented the fewest by one of Wizards' opponents this season. This time, Cleveland surpassed that total with 4:25 left in the third quarter.
"It was in the front of our mind," James said of what remains the Cavs' only home loss this season. "We know what they did to us. We just wanted to get some give back."
Guard Garrett Temple scored 21 points for the Wizards. Guard John Wall added 20 points and 12 assists.
Both teams shot over 53 per cent from the field. Washington made 14 of 24 three-pointers, but only 17 of 27 from the free-throw line.
James grabbed 10 rebounds as the Cavaliers finished with a 44-33 advantage on the glass.
The real difference, however, was simple, Temple said.
"Too much Kyrie," the Washington guard said. "He was hitting some tough, tough shots."
A sub-plot of the game had been the match-up between the two All-Star point guards - Irving and Wall.
Wall had told CSNmidatlantic.com last month that "it's a joke" Irving was No. 2 among all Eastern Conference guards in the first All-Star balloting returns after playing in only two games.
Wall, who started the 2015 All-Star Game, was fifth, with Dwayne Wade, Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler also ahead of him.
There was little to note about Wall's early performance in his first meeting of the season against Irving. He shot 1 of 9 from the field in the first half while committing six of his seven turnovers.
And Irving, who has insisted that "there's no beef or anything that's going on" between himself and Wall over the Wizard star's remarks, finished strong.
"That was nuts," Smith said after Irving sank eight of 11 shot attempts in the fourth quarter. "To be out months and still be able to come out there and shake and bake like he's doing is remarkable. I don't think there is any question who the real All-Star is."