CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving was calm and confident when he stepped to the foul line with 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock Sunday night.
“I imagined myself back in my backyard,” he said. “I felt like it was a routine situation for me. There was a little bit of pressure, but I was prepared for it.”
Irving, looking like a seasoned pro instead of a 19-year-old rookie, hit two clutch free throws to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a 93-92 win over Sacramento that extended the Kings’ losing streak to five games.
The Cavaliers bounced back from Friday night’s embarrassing 111-87 home loss to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, after which Cleveland coach Byron Scott questioned his team’s toughness. While the Cavaliers failed to hold a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, they showed some much-needed grit down the stretch in a game that was tied 17 times and featured 19 lead changes.
“We got a little lucky tonight,” Scott said. “That’s all I can say.”
Irving, the No. 1 pick in the draft, won an unexpected duel with Kings rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas, the last pick in the draft. Thomas, making his second NBA start, scored a career-high 23 points and had 11 assists for the Kings.
“He was the No. 1 pick, I was the last pick,” Thomas said. “Why not use that for extra motivation? He’s a great player, so it was a lot of fun.”
Irving’s foul shots came after DeMarcus Cousins’ basket with 2.9 seconds left gave the Kings a 92-91 lead.
Cleveland called timeout to get the ball at midcourt. Irving inbounded to Antawn Jamison, who gave the ball back to the point guard. Irving drove into the lane, where he was fouled by Tyreke Evans.
“Three seconds is a long length of time,” Irving said. “I was going to shoot a jump shot or get to the basket. Luckily, Tyreke fouled me and I got to the free throw line.”
Irving was surprised when Evans reached in.
“Even if they didn’t call a foul, I saw the lane open up a little bit and I was going to go for a layup,” Irving said. “He fouled me. It was a unique situation.”
It was yet another frustrating night for the Kings, who weren’t so sure Irving was actually fouled.
“I can’t answer that, my wife will be mad (if I get fined),” Sacramento coach Keith Smart said when asked about the play. “I just saw a good defensive play.”
“We were switching everywhere, so I didn’t know who was going to guard who,” Evans said.
The Kings had one last chance. After a timeout moved the ball to halfcourt, Evans’ alley-oop pass hit the rim and the game appeared to be over. However, the officials ruled the clock started too early and Sacramento had another opportunity. Evans inbounded to Cousins, but his fallaway shot from the right side caromed off the rim and came after time expired.
Sacramento is 0-4 on its six-game road trip and the Kings play at Miami on Tuesday.
“It’s unfortunate how it ended,” Smart said. “Our guys deserved to win this game, but it wasn’t in the cards for us tonight.”
Cleveland built an 80-70 lead early in the fourth period, but the Kings rallied to go ahead. The lead changed five times before Tristan Thompson’s tip-in tied the game at 90-all with 35 seconds left.
The Kings missed three shots on their ensuing possession and Alonzo Gee was fouled trying to grab the rebound. He missed the first shot, but made the second.
After a timeout, Cousins took the inbounds pass from Thomas, drove the baseline around Jamison and scored on an underhand layup.
Marcus Thornton scored 21 points and Cousins had 19 for the Kings. Jamison scored 21 points for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers are 3-3 on their nine-game homestand, the longest in franchise history.
The teams were involved in an offseason trade that sent small forward Omri Casspi to Cleveland while power forward J.J. Hickson joined the Kings. Casspi scored six points and had a career-high 12 rebounds while Hickson was scoreless and had four rebounds off the bench. The Cavaliers also received a lottery-protected first-round draft pick.
NOTES: The Kings, who are 3-16 on the road, play in Miami on Tuesday and in Washington on Wednesday. ... Smart went 9-31 as interim coach of the Cavaliers in 2002-2003, replacing John Lucas at midseason. ... Cavaliers G Daniel Gibson missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle. Scott said Gibson might return Tuesday against Detroit. ... Cleveland G Anthony Parker sat out his 10th consecutive game because of back spasms.