Atlanta: Australian star Kyrie Irving scored 35 points in his NBA return from a bruised left knee but the Cleveland Cavaliers, playing without LeBron James, lost 109-101 Tuesday at Atlanta.
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James, who celebrated his 30th birthday Tuesday, missed the contest due to a sore left knee. The superstar playmaker is averaging 25.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists a game.
James had missed only one prior game this season, three weeks ago Oklahoma City, in his first campaign since leaving the Miami Heat and returning to his first NBA club vowing to build them into a champion.
Irving, a point guard who missed Cleveland`s two prior games with a bone bruise, passed out a team-high nine assists and pulled down six rebounds for the Cavaliers,who were also missing forward Shawn Marion because of a left ankle injury.
Adding to the misery for the Cavaliers was a setback for big man Kevin Love, who scored only seven points on 1-of-8 shooting before leaving the game with back spasms.
Paul Millsap led Atlanta with 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Jeff Teague added 23 points and a game-high 11 assists for the Hawks and Kyle Korver contributed 19 points, hitting 5-of-8 3-point shots.
Tristan Thompson added 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who fell to 18-13 and only 7-7 in road games.
Cleveland pulled within two points in the final five minutes but Millsap and Teague combined to score Atlanta`s final 16 points to secure the victory.
Southeast division leader Atlanta improved to 23-8 overall and 14-3 at home with a seventh win in eight games. The Hawks are one game behind Toronto for the best record in the Eastern Conference while the Cavaliers rank fifth in the East, four games behind Chicago in the Central division.