PHOENIX -- Four games into his comeback from offseason knee surgery, guard Kyrie Irving showed he is not far away from being the player the Cleveland Cavaliers will need if they hope to chase a championship this year.
Irving scored 22 points in 24 minutes and beat the shot-clock buzzer with his team's 17th 3-pointer of the night with 21 seconds left as the Cavaliers beat the fading Phoenix Suns 101-97 Monday night.
"It's coming possession by possession, just getting the confidence from my teammates," said Irving, who is expected to sit out Tuesday when the Cavaliers play the Nuggets in Denver. "Every shot is at this point (a confidence-builder), but that one was more in my comfort zone.
"At the end of the day, it's just basketball, whether the shot goes in or not. I missed the last one (before the game-winner) but was lucky enough to make the last one."
Guard J.R. Smith scored 17 points and hit five 3-pointers for the Cavaliers (20-9). Cleveland avoided its first three-game losing streak of the season after back-to-back road losses to the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers.
The Cavaliers put up a franchise-record 41 3-point attempts, also the most ever against a Suns team, and they hit 17.
"We shot a lot of them, but if you're going to make 42 percent of them, it's not necessarily a bad number," Cleveland coach David Blatt said. "You go 5-for-30 like we did (on Christmas against the Warriors), it's not a good thing. But the shots were there, we took them, and we made them when we needed them."
Down by as many as 11 in the second half, Phoenix inched within 96-95 on a 3-pointer by Knight with 1:27 left. The Suns had a chance to take the lead, but another Knight 3-pointer was wiped out by an offensive foul on center Tyson Chandler against Cleveland guard Iman Shumpert with 46.6 seconds left.
Cleveland followed with a disjointed possession, but Smith saved the ball from going out of bounds before Love found Irving for a long 3-pointer that gave his team enough room to win.
"Kyrie missed a few (7-for-16 field goals), but he kept shooting and made a huge one there for us in the end," Love said. "J.R. was able to save the ball, which was a huge play for us. I pump-faked and saw the defender drew to me, and Kyrie made a big shot, especially with the clock ticking down.
"He's a confident guy, and he's going to continue to make big plays."
Love had 16 points and seven rebounds, and forward LeBron James added 14 points and seven assists for Cleveland.
Forward T.J. Warren had 13 of his season-high 23 points in the fourth quarter for the Suns (12-21), who lost their fifth in a row and fell for the 16th time in 21 games.
Guard Brandon Knight had 18 points and forwards Jon Leuer and P.J. Tucker had 14 each for Phoenix, which played its first game since losing leading scorer Eric Bledsoe to a left knee injury that will require surgery on Tuesday. They also played without the suspended Markieff Morris, and assistant coaches Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi were fired earlier Monday.
"When a team is going through a lot of things on and off the floor and in the locker room, that's when they bind together, and we knew that," said James, who took only 10 shots. "We knew they would give us their best punch, and we handled it very well."
Two days after losing to the 1-29 Philadelphia 76ers, the Suns put up a much better fight but suffered the same result.
"I thought they played great," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "We executed plays, we got into stuff. We didn't take too many quick shots, which we've been trying to eliminate.
"It's still a loss, but it's encouraging that we were without Eric. That's a good effort. You can't fault that."
NOTES: Coach Jeff Hornacek said he received an apology text from F Markieff Morris, who completed his two-game suspension Monday for throwing a towel and yelling at the coach during a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 23. ... Hornacek said he expects G Eric Bledsoe will miss about six weeks after undergoing knee surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee on Tuesday. ... Rookie Devin Booker, who scored most of his career-high 19 points in Saturday's loss to Philadelphia after Bledsoe went down, made his first NBA start at shooting guard on Monday. ... Earl Watson and Nate Bjorkgrenv moved up to replace Suns assistant coaches Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi, who were fired Monday after the Suns lost at home to the 1-29 Sixers on Saturday. "Earl is just recently out of playing, so he has a good feel for the guys in the league because he played against most of them," Hornacek said. "He is a little closer in age to the guys. Maybe he can relate to them a little more."