Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving returned to the floor in style on Wednesday night, as he and fellow guard, Dion Waiters, led the team to a 119-98 victory over the Orlando Magic at Amway Arena.
After missing eight games with a strained tendon in his left biceps, Irving returned to the starting lineup and scored 17 points on seven-of-eight shooting. In addition to the points, Irving handed out eight assists, controlled six rebounds and was a plus-20 on the court.
"I felt good, just really excited to be back out there with my teammates," Irving said. "We just had a great rhythm. I wasn't trying to force it, just let the game come to me, play off my teammates as best I could.
"My job is to make my teammates better. Watching film of myself before, sometimes, I pressed too much. Coming back, the way our team's playing, it's great for me. To be able to knock down shots when I can or attack and make plays for my teammates, that's my job. I'm accepting my role as the leader of this team just to make this team better."
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown was "encouraged" by the way the team played in Irving's return.
"One of the things we talked about with Kyrie is, 'Hey, our pace has been real good. Our pace in the half court's been good. Our pace in the full court has been good. That throw-ahead pass has been very, very good for us. Let's keep it up, and defensively, let's not let up.' I thought Kyrie came right in and got in step with the rest of us. He helped us in the area of getting the ball up the court quickly and looking to attack. He's just another weapon that we have that has a high skill level."
While Irving was helping to move the ball, Waiters was putting it through the hoop.
Waiters, who replaced Irving in the starting lineup eight games ago, remained in the first five for the Cavaliers upon the All-Star point guard's return and scored a game-high 26 points on 10 of 15 shooting, including a perfect three-for-three from beyond the three-point arc. Waiters added three assists and a steal in 33 minutes of action.
"I think we were locked in," Waiters told Fox Sports Ohio after the game. "We came in with a lot of energy. It was fun to have Ky back. He comes back with more exciting plays, and we had that extra step today.
"He took a lot of pressure off me. I'm not the main focus anymore, so, at the end of the day, we're just showing everybody that we can make it work, and we've got to continue to play that way, continue to keep growing as a team, as a unit, and just play together."
That togetherness in the backcourt between Irving and Waiters paid dividends for the Cavaliers, as the team registered 28 assists on 45 made field goals, and center Spencer Hawes was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the unselfishness.
The 7-foot-1 Hawes was able to stretch the floor and hand out five assists of his own in the first half, and made four of his seven three-point attempts for 20 points.
"Getting looks early, we really had the pace," Hawes said. "Not just bodies, but the ball was moving. I think we got them scrambling and they had to pick their poison, and I was getting some good looks. They were going in.
"That's been the theme. I think it helps us on defense too. We get that camaraderie and everybody's feeling good, so you work that much harder on the other end as well."
As a whole, the Cavaliers scored 25 points in fast-break situations and 64 in the key against the Magic.
"I thought our guys played a good basketball game," Brown said. "I thought they did a nice job of moving the ball, moving bodies, trying to share the basketball, getting off the ball the right way, and for us, to have 25 fast-break points, we were really locked in to what we have been doing as of late, which is trying to get the ball up the floor, either on the pass or the dribble, and look to attack before the defense gets set.
"On top of that, to score 64 points in the paint was a testament to our team moving the ball and attacking the rim. Something that we've been stressing a lot to our guys is, 'Drive the gaps. Drive the gaps. Drive the gaps, and if the next guy doesn't pull over, finish at the rim or look to kick to a teammate.' Our guys did a nice job of attacking the paint, attacking the rim."