CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving gave the Cleveland Cavaliers some much-needed good news Wednesday night.
Irving scored 18 of his 33 points in the third quarter and the injury-riddled Cavaliers beat the Atlanta Hawks 99-83 — Cleveland's largest margin of victory this season.
Irving's big night came at a perfect time for his team, which hasn't had much to feel good about lately. The Cavaliers lost five of six overall and six straight at home going into the game, but that seemed minor compared to the news that came earlier in the day.
Center Anderson Varejao will have surgery Thursday to repair a muscle that split near his right knee. He will miss six to eight weeks. Varejao was having an All-Star caliber season, averaging 14.1 points and an NBA-leading 14.4 rebounds. Irving admitted the Cavaliers, who had only 10 available players, were thinking about their sidelined teammate throughout the night.
"Andy's production, his effort, his whole morale around the team will be missed," Irving said. "We all have to step up."
"The biggest thing we talked about before the game was having fun," coach Byron Scott said. "Let's see what happens. Play hard, play together and play smart. We did all three of those things."
Josh Smith scored 17 points to lead Atlanta, which has lost a season-worst four straight. Hawks coach Larry Drew, who called his team "soft" following Tuesday night's loss to Minnesota, watched them get completely outplayed after tying the game early in the third. His mood wasn't any better following the latest lackluster effort.
"I am a little concerned right now," Drew said. "I've got to do something to get this team on stride again — and I will."
"The energy and the effort isn't all there right now," said center Al Horford. "It's about energy, man, and we need to defend better."