PHOENIX • In the fourth game after his comeback from off-season knee surgery, guard Kyrie Irving showed that he is not far away from being the player the Cleveland Cavaliers will need if they hope to land the National Basketball Association (NBA) title this year.
He scored 22 points in 24 minutes and beat the shot-clock buzzer with his team's 17th three-pointer of the night with 21 seconds remaining as the Cavaliers beat the fading Phoenix Suns 101-97 on Monday.
"It's coming possession by possession, just getting the confidence from my team-mates," he said. "Every shot is at this point (a confidence-builder), but that one was more in my comfort zone.
"At the end of the day, it's just basketball, whether the shot goes in or not. I missed the (one before the game winner) but was lucky enough to make the last one."
Guard J.R. Smith added 17 points and hit five three-pointers for the Cavaliers (20-9), who avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season after back-to-back road losses to the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Kyrie Irving's points in the final 1min 44sec.
LeBron James' points in the fourth quarter - from two free throws. He was 0-for-3 from the field.
The Cavaliers put up a franchise-record 41 three-point attempts, also the most ever against a Suns team, and they hit 17.
"We shot a lot of them, but if you're going to make 42 per cent of them, it's not necessarily a bad number," Cleveland coach David Blatt said.
"You go 5-for-30 like we did (on Christmas against the Warriors), it's not a good thing.
"But the shots were there, we took them, and we made them when we needed them."
Down by as many as 11 in the second half, Phoenix inched within 95-96 on a three-pointer by Brandon Knight with 1min 27sec left.
The Suns had a chance to take the lead, but another Knight three-pointer was wiped out by an offensive foul by centre Tyson Chandler against Cleveland guard Iman Shumpert with 46.6 seconds left.
Cleveland followed with a disjointed possession, but Smith saved the ball from going out of bounds before Kevin Love found Irving for a long three-pointer that gave his team enough room to win.
"Kyrie missed a few (7-for-16 field goals), but he kept shooting and made a huge one there for us in the end," said Cavs forward Kevin Love, who had 16 points and seven rebounds. "He's a confident guy, and he's going to continue to make big plays."
Forward LeBron James added 14 points but had only two on 0-for-3 shooting in the fourth quarter. He also had seven assists.
Forward T.J. Warren had 13 of his season-high 23 points in the fourth quarter for the Suns.
Guard Knight had 18 points and forwards Jon Leuer and P.J. Tucker had 14 each for Phoenix, who played their first game since losing leading scorer Eric Bledsoe to a left-knee injury that will require surgery.
"I thought they played great," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after watching his team lose their fifth in a row and 16th of their last 21 games. "It's still a loss, but it's encouraging that we were without Eric.
"That's a good effort. You can't fault that."