CLEVELAND – Ramon Sessions scored a season-high 24 points as a last-minute replacement for injured rookie Kyrie Irving and Antawn Jamison scored 27, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 99-92 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
Sessions didn't know he was starting until moments before the game when the Cavs diagnosed Irving with a concussion. Sessions added 13 assists in his first start this season.
Daniel Gibson scored 17 points in his return for Cleveland after missing five games with a neck infection.
Blake Griffin scored 25 before fouling out with 6.6 seconds left for the Clippers, who tied it at 87 with 2:10 left after trailing by 15 in the third quarter. But Gibson made a 3-pointer and Anderson Varejao dropped a key jumper with 29 seconds left — and 1 on the 24-second shot clock — as Cleveland hung on.
Chris Paul had 16 points and 12 assists for Los Angeles, playing its first game without injured guard Chauncey Billups, out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
Griffin added 15 rebounds and Randy Foye, starting for Billups, scored 15. Kenyon Martin made his debut for Los Angeles and scored six in 21 rugged minutes.
Down by 15 midway through the third, the Clippers closed the period with a 12-3 run, capped when Griffin, who is usually on the receiving end of alley-oop passes, fed Martin for a two-handed stuff to bring Los Angeles within 70-64.
Griffin finally thrilled Cleveland's crowd with his own dunk off a lob during a 6-0 run, helping the Clippers catch the Cavs at 87-all with 2:10 to go.
But Gibson hit a 3-pointer from the corner, and after former Cavs guard Mo Williams blew an easy layup underneath, Sessions made two free throws to give Cleveland a 92-87 lead.
The Clippers were still within 95-92 when Caron Butler forced and missed a 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds left. Alonzo Gee made two free throws for Cleveland and Griffin was whistled for his sixth personal when he bumped Varejao from behind as they ran up the floor. The two traded elbows and hip checks all night.
Gibson's two free throws sealed it for the Cavs, who opened a nine-game homestand with an unexpected win.
The night started on a sour note.
Irving, who has lived up to expectations as the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, was kept out with a concussion sustained Tuesday night in Miami. The team did not disclose Irving's concussion until moments before tip-off, shortly after he was diagnosed by a team doctor who administered the league's new concussion test.
The Cavs said the 19-year-old was kneed in the loss to the Heat. He complained of a headache following the game and that it worsened overnight and while he warmed up Wednesday. Coach Byron Scott did not mention Irving's injury or the fact that he was struck in the head during his pregame media briefing.
Irving is averaging 18 points and 5.1 assists and has made several clutch fourth-quarter plays for the Cavs. He was selected to participate in the "Rising Stars" game during All-Star weekend next month in Orlando.
The Cavaliers got another scare in the third quarter, when Varejao took a nasty fall while crashing the boards for an offensive rebound.
After Jamison missed a short jumper, Varejao came charging down the lane and lost his balance while jumping between Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Varejao slammed hard on his tailbone and hit the back of his head. Varejao grabbed his lower back and head before trainer Max Benton rushed out to check on him.
Varejao walked gingerly to the locker room but returned to the bench with a large wrap on his back. He was back on the floor to start the fourth and immediately grabbed a rebound.
Martin signed with the Clippers last week after playing part of the season in China. Known for his toughness and temper, the 11-year veteran drew a technical foul in the third quarter when he shoved Samardo Samuels, who had knocked Griffin down with a hard foul under the rim.
Notes: Griffin, the NBA's reigning dunk champ, said he's undecided about whether to participate in this year's event in Orlando. Griffin said the league hasn't contacted him yet, making it sound as if he's waiting for an invitation. "We'll see what happens," he said. ... Cavs rookie F Tristan Thompson (ankle) and G Anthony Parker remained sidelined. Thompson, who along with Irving was chosen to play in the "Rising Stars" game on All-Star weekend, said his ankle is "better" and he expects to play in the next few days. ... Scott, a former Laker and lifelong L.A. resident, is happy to say the Clippers are legitimate. "Did I ever wonder if they would be? Yeah, I did," he said. "But as soon as they made the trade and got Chris (Paul), I knew they would be. I think it's great for Los Angeles to have two teams that are both aspiring to win championships. The Clippers are no longer a second thought in Los Angeles. I think Kobe (Bryant) loves it because it's competition."