MEMPHIS, Tenn. _ Cavaliers coach Byron Scott was initially apprehensive about letting Kyrie Irving return to game action when his sprained right shoulder healed. Now four games into the return, Scott can rest a little easier.
Irving has improved in each of his four games back, particularly in Monday's 109-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. He had 25 points and four assists in 29 minutes, but free-throw shooting down the stretch doomed the Cavs.
The game was tied at 98 with three minutes left, but the Cavs missed 5-of-6 free throws in the final 2:16. Irving missed a pair, his first misses since returning from the shoulder injury (he had made 13 in a row) and Tristan Thompson missed 3-of-4. Thompson's name was highlighted on the board in the Grizzlies' locker room prior to the game as a poor free-throw shooter to target and he showed them why.
When Thompson missed a pair with the Cavs trailing 102-99 and 1:04 left, former Ohio State star Mike Conley nailed a jumper at the other end to clinch the Grizzlies victory.
Despite the missed free throws and a late turnover, it was easily Irving's best game since returning from the shoulder injury. He is averaging 21.7 points in his last three games and appears to be back in the form that will soon win him the Rookie of the Year award.
"That's why we wanted him to come back, just to go out there and get his feet wet and keep accepting the challenge every single night," Scott said. "He's done just that, so I'm very excited about the way he's played the last couple of games."
The night featured a reunion with former Cavs guard Lester Hudson, who was working out at the Cavs' practice facility last Thursday when contract negotiations to keep him there deteriorated. Within hours, he was back in Memphis, preparing to sign again with his hometown Grizzlies.
It has been a wild week for Hudson, who enjoyed his finest stretch of professional basketball in Cleveland. His agent, Keith Glass, was upset when the Cavs did not extend Hudson for the rest of the season when his first 10-day contract expired.
When the second such 10-day deal expired, and the Cavaliers refused to guarantee Hudson any money for next season, Hudson quickly landed in Memphis.
"Of course it was a shock," Hudson said. "I was just feeling comfortable like home. It was very shocking, disappointing to me. I thought I played my tail off to stay around."
Hudson played the entire second quarter Monday for the Grizzlies, scoring nine points.
Compared to his time with the Cavs, Hudson's minutes have been slashed considerably. He still doesn't have any guaranteed dollars for next season, either, but he's back playing for his hometown team and hopeful he has a future there.
"If it wasn't Cleveland, this was the best move for me," Hudson said. "I have an opportunity to play at home and play in the playoffs. I think it will be great for me. I'm not going to get as many shots, so the shots I take, I'm going to have to make them."
On Monday, it was as if Hudson never really left. He is temporarily living at the same hotel where the Cavaliers stayed, allowing him to chat Monday morning with Alonzo Gee at the hotel.
He spent a good part of Monday's pregame sitting and talking courtside with Cavs assistant coach Joe Prunty. The pair spent plenty of hours together reviewing film and getting Hudson acclimated to the system during his three weeks with the team. He also received a big embrace from Scott.
"It looks like he's happy," Scott said, "which is the important thing."
Antawn Jamison had 17 points and Thompson had 12 points and nine rebounds before fouling out in the final minute. Gee, in his return to the starting lineup following a sprained ankle, had eight points.
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