CLEVELAND — Rookie Kyrie Irving made a driving layup in traffic with 15.8 seconds left to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a 91-88 win over the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night,
Irving, who is showing a knack for last-second drama in his first season, finished with 20 points and Anderson Varejao added 17 points and 17 rebounds for the Cavs.
After Irving's second game-winning layup in a week, Jason Terry missed an off-balance 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left for Dallas. After a replay review gave the Mavericks a final chance, Brandan Wright missed a desperation shot at the horn. The Mavericks didn't score a field goal in the final 4:13.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 points and passed Elgin Baylor for 22nd place on the NBA's scoring list.
Before hitting his late layup, Irving made a similar one — after Varejao's seventh offensive rebound — with 2:36 left to give the Cavs an 87-86 lead.
The Mavericks, who were so efficient on the way to their title last season, seemed lost on offense in the closing minutes. Terry missed with 2:14 to go and he made a bad pass in the lane to a cutting Nowitzki, who then had his own miss with one minute left.
Varejao dropped a runner in the lane to put the Cavaliers ahead 89-86 with 41.4 seconds left. Terry's two free throws got the Mavericks within one, and that's when Irving, Cleveland's young star, put the game in his hands.
He drove the left side, created some space near the basket and flipped in his shot right-handed off the glass.
Down by eight at halftime and playing ragged offensive, the Cavaliers reeled off 13 straight points in the third quarter, in which they outscored the Mavericks 27-13 and somehow took a 70-64 lead into the fourth.
Last spring, the Mavericks were adopted by Cleveland as the city rooted hard for them in the NBA finals when they denied LeBron James and the Miami Heat a championship.
"I heard some things about it," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Last year was great for us. We know people were pulling for us and that was one of the special things about it."
The Mavericks, who played their fifth game without point guard Jason Kidd (calf) were cheered during pregame introductions by Cavaliers fans, who were espeically noisy for Nowitzki, the finals MVP last season.
But the loudest ovations came later for Irving, who is not only proving to be worthy of the No. 1 overall pick but showing superstar qualities at the age of 19.
Nowitzki was perfect in the first half, making all five shots from the field and four straight free throws while scoring 15 points. But he was just 4 of 10 after halftime and couldn't come up with the big basket when the Mavericks desperately needed it.
The Cavs scored only 15 points in the first quarter, when they shot 22 percent (6 of 27) and forward Luke Harangody shot an ugly 3-pointer that slammed off the backboard and threatened to harm anyone in its path.
It didn't get much better for Cleveland in the second quarter, but the Cavs only trailed 51-43 at halftime.
NOTES: Nowitzki needs 23 points to tie Adrian Dantley (23,177) for 21st place. ... Varejao has 51 rebounds in his last four games. ... Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, fined $75,000 &earlier this week for criticizing officials, was not with the team and spending more money. He was in Indianapolis hosting a Super Bowl party. ... Cavs coach Byron Scott didn't hesitate when asked to predict the Super Bowl. "Giants 27 to 21," said the former Lakers guard. "You guys should know that I don't like anything from Boston — Celtics, Red Sox or Patriots." ... The Cavs were still without G Daniel Gibson (neck), G Anthony Parker (back) and rookie F Tristan Thompson (ankle). Gibson was hospitalized earlier this week in Boston and Scott said the team's doctors want to re-evaluate him before deciding when he can return.