PHOENIX (AP) - Kyrie Irving is a fast learner.
After playing only 11 games at Duke, he was deemed good enough to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
In only his 10th game in the league, he scored a season-high 26 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 101-90 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.
Irving, the catalyst of the improved Cavaliers, topped his previous high of 21.
Irving did most of his damage against Steve Nash, the NBA's two-time Most Valuable Player.
``It was definitely fun playing against a great point guard like Steve Nash,' Irving, 19, said. ``I have been watching him for so long and playing against him was a little surreal.'
Irving credited his teammates.
``I was just feeding off my teammates,' he said. ``I was taking it off the screens and taking what the defense gave me. My teammates had enough confidence in me and kept feeding me. They told me to keep going and that's what I did.'
Antawn Jamison matched his season high with 23 points, and Anderson Varejeo had 15 rebounds.
Nash led six Suns players in double figures with 16 points, becoming the 15th active player to reach 16,000 points. He also had 15 assists. Marcin Gortat had 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Michael Redd, playing his first game for Phoenix, had 12 points in 19 minutes.
Irving put on a remarkable performance in the first half. With the Cavaliers trailing 40-34, he scored 12 consecutive points in 2:51, including two 3s, capping a 14-0 run and lifting Cleveland to a 46-40 advantage.
Jamison said the turning point of the game was the second quarter.
``We got to the point where we had some consecutive stops,' he said.
The Suns were duly impressed with Irving's effort.
``He's good,' Ronnie Price said. ``He's sound for a young guy. He plays the pick and roll better than a lot of rookies. He has free range to do what he has to do on the court. He made all the right plays. You have to give him credit.'
One of his best plays was hitting over Gortat.
``I told him he put me on ESPN with his fancy moves,' the Suns' center said. ``He's talented. He was really good today. But I didn't help (defensively) on the pick and rolls and he was able to beat Steve.'
After Irving's offensive outburst, Jamison took charge of the offense. He scored seven straight Cleveland points, helping the Cavaliers to a 56-48 halftime advantage.
Irving finished the half with 16 points and Jamison had 13.
The Cavaliers, in the midst of a tough trip, played with extreme energy in the first half, outrunning and outrebounding the Suns.
Redd made his Suns' debut early in the first period, replacing Grant Hill, who had to leave with a bloody nose. Redd hit his first two shots, both 3s, then finished the half by shooting 3 for 6 in 10:55. Redd, signed recently as a free agent had not played since last April, but only sparingly with the Milwaukee Bucks. Because of two knee surgeries, he had played in only 61 games in the past three seasons.
Redd said his playing time ``felt more like 40 minutes.'
But overall, he was pleased with his effort.
``I felt a little rusty but it was to be expected,' Redd said. ``I didn't get winded. The knee feels fine. For me, this was preseason. To come back and play and move well, it felt good. It was good to get in there.'
Hill returned, but experienced soreness in his right knee and did not play in the second half.
NOTES: This was the Cavaliers' fifth game in a grueling seven-game trip. They began it by losing to Toronto, then beat Minnesota, and lost to Utah and Portland. They will conclude the long journey with games at the Los Angeles Lakers and Charlotte. ... The Suns host New Jersey on Friday night, then embark on a five-game trip, starting with San Antonio and followed by Chicago, New York, Boston and Dallas. ... Cleveland is one of the youngest teams in the league with seven players with one or fewer years of NBA experience. ... The court at US Airways Center was refinished since the Suns last played on it Sunday night. The refinishing was necessary because players were slipping on it.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved