CLEVELAND -- After dominating the scoring much of the night, Kyrie Irving potentially threw the game away Wednesday before stealing it back.
Irving scored 33 points in the Cleveland Cavaliers' 99-98 win over the Dallas Mavericks on a night LeBron James rested, but it was Irving's crucial steal in the final seconds that sealed the win. With Clevaland leading 97-95, the Mavericks double-teamed Irving on the Cavaliers' previous possession, forcing him to throw the ball away for a turnover.
Irving atoned for it when he appeared to hook Dirk Nowitzki and slide in front of him to steal the ball back. Nowitzki was forced to foul and Irving made both free throws for a four-point lead, rendering Deron Williams' banked in 3-pointer at the buzzer irrelevant.
"I was really (mad) at the turnover. It was stuck in my head but I tried not to show it," Irving said. "We got the switch they wanted. Dirk was trying to post up. I kind of knew he wanted it on that left shoulder and I just tried to force him that way."
Not everyone on the floor saw it the same way. Nowitzki argued with officials while Irving walked to the free-throw line believing he was fouled.
"Kyrie magically appeared with the ball. That's really all that happened," Nowitzki said. "I didn't see the play. I know I'm not going to get fined over it. It is what it is."
Added Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle: "We got unlucky. There was one whistle we could've gotten that we didn't. That was disappointing."
The Cavaliers scored a rare victory on a night James rested, but it didn't come easy. Kevin Love scored 23 points and grabbed 18 rebounds and the Cavaliers survived after squandering a pair of 20-point leads. They're now 4-12 since the start of last season in games James misses, including 1-2 this season. Their two previous games were both lopsided losses after they trailed by 30 to the Miami Heat and 27 to the Washington Wizards.
"We know we have to pick up the slack when 'Bron is out," Love said. "It's a learning experience for us. It's a chance for us to grow. I think that teams look at when 'Bron is out and think, 'This is a game we can grab' or 'We hit them in the head and they'll lay down. Tonight we didn't do that. We came out aggressive and knew that we could take advantage of some mismatches."
Nowitzki and David Lee each scored 20 points for the Mavericks, who have lost six of their last seven games. J.J. Barea scored nine of his 17 in the fourth quarter, while Chandler Parsons fell one shy of his season high with 11 assists.
The Cavaliers never trailed, but their 16-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter became a one-possession game in the final minute. Nowitzki and Devin Harris both missed 3-pointers in the closing minutes that could've given the Mavericks their first lead.
Irving answered by scoring on a cutting layup to the basket for a 97-93 lead. The Cavaliers appeared to have the win sealed when Barea threw the ball away under pressure in the final minute, but the Mavericks got the ball right back when they double-teamed Irving and forced him to throw the ball away cross-court as well.
"I just tried to be aggressive," Irving said. "I saw (Matthew Dellavedova) crosscourt and I should have just dribbled it out. ... I should have stayed safe but that turnover led to a defensive play I'm glad I could make."
The Mavericks missed their first eight shots of the second quarter and didn't score until a layup from Dwight Powell cut the Cavaliers' lead to 46-30 with 7:11 left in the half. The Cavaliers quickly pushed the lead to 20, but the Mavericks had the deficit down to 52-49 in less than five minutes.
"Any time you get down that far to any team, it's tough to scrap and fight your way back in," Parsons said. 'I thought that we did a great job of doing that -- not completely giving in and getting blown out. I think with what we're playing for, that would have been a shame."
The Mavericks are still clinging to the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff chase.
"We had enough chances," Nowitzki said. "Just a horrible first quarter and third quarter. We basically spotted them 40 points and had to keep fighting back. We've got to look at it and get better."
NOTES: Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle called rookie Justin Anderson the most improved player since the beginning of the season. "I like where he is," Carlisle said. "He's by far the most improved guy on our team, just from the beginning of the season to now. He's got a long way to go, but he's a worker." ... Cleveland G Mo Williams has appeared in one game over the last month and totaled just four minutes while dealing with a knee injury. The team is expected to have an update on him in the coming days. ... G Kyrie Irving tied Geoff Huston for 10th place on the team's all-time assist list with 1,630.