CLEVELAND (AP) — More than hour after his first playoff game with LeBron James and Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving made a statement more profound than anything he did on the floor.
“We,” Irving said, “are the Big 3. We have really great players on this team, but we set the tone.”
Irving scored 30 points in his playoff debut, James added 20 in his first postseason game with Cleveland in five years and Love shook off a slow start to record a double-double, leading the Cavaliers to a 113-100 victory in Game 1 over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
Irving made five 3-pointers and Love, another postseason rookie, added 19 points — 13 in the second half — and 12 rebounds
James was proud of how his teammates handled their first venture onto the playoff stage.
“They were phenomenal,” he said. “Those two guys, they succeeded for the first time being in the postseason.”
It was Cleveland’s first home playoff game since May 11, 2010, when the Celtics won Game 5 and James left the floor to some boos from Cavaliers fans. He departed for Miami two months later, but he’s home now, all is forgiven and Cleveland is aiming to end a championship drought dating to 1964.
Isaiah Thomas scored 22 points to lead the seventh-seeded Celtics. They will try to even the best-of-7 series in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
“We’re still confident,” Thomas said. “Guys are ready for Game 2, knowing that good or bad you’ve got to have a short memory. There are possibly seven games in this series and it could go either way.”
The Cavs built a 20-point lead in the third quarter, let the Celtics get as close as six and then finished the quarter with a 9-0 run — capped a 3-pointer by James Jones — to take a 15-point lead into the fourth. Boston climbed within 10 in the final 12 minutes, but Love made a crucial 3-pointer with 3:32 left to slow Boston.
In the days leading up to the opener, James said he was confident Irving and Love would be ready for the playoffs, but added “you never know,” perhaps the superstar’s way of motivating his teammates. Irving and Love looked like playoff veterans as Cleveland’s “Big 3” combined for 69 points.
Irving said four days of preparation helped the Cavs get ready, and while he and Love didn’t say they were nervous, they both seemed relieved to have the opener behind them.
“I’m just glad I got Game 1 out of the way,” Irving said.
Love started slowly, going 2 of 11 in the first half. But he was assertive in the third quarter, and James liked what he saw in a player whose game has been scrutinized all season.
“Even with Kev’s shot not falling early, I felt like just the rhythm he was in, the aggressive he was in will pay off for us later,” James said.
James came in with more playoff experience — 158 games — than Boston’s entire roster, an inequality that seemed to favor the Cavaliers. However, the young Celtics weren’t overwhelmed on the bigger stage or intimidated by Cleveland’s towel-waving fans sporting T-shirts that said, “All In,” the team’s postseason slogan.
Boston led by eight in the first quarter, but got careless with the ball and finished with 14 turnovers — 13 after the first quarter.
“We’ll learn from it and improve from it,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Very simple. I don’t want to overdo it. This is a long series.”
With Cleveland’s lead slipping away in the third quarter, thanks to a 14-0 run by the Celtics, reserve James Jones hit a turnaround jumper and then made a 3-pointer at the horn to give the Cavs a 91-76 lead.
Jones gives the Cavs experience and another offensive weapon.
“James is like a doctor on call,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “He’s always ready to come in and do what needs to be done when called on. He made a couple of huge shots and a couple of defensive plays as well.”
Blatt also made his playoff debut, and said his fondest memory was having his three daughters, who live in Israel, there to see it.
Stevens said defending the Cavs is difficult because of their offensive diversity.
“They make you pick your poison,” he said. “We have to pay attention to LeBron. We have to pay attention to Love and Irving. Your margin is greatly decreased when you’re playing a team of this caliber.”
Celtics: F Kelly Olynyk scored 12 points on his 24th birthday. He played with five stitches in the back of his head after he got elbowed in the season finale against Milwaukee. … G Evan Turner was one of just six players this season with 750 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists. … One of the league’s rising teams, the Celtics can add some pieces with two first-round draft picks (Nos. 16 and 28) in June.
Cavaliers: James (1,026) passed Michael Jordan (1,022) for ninth place for career postseason assists. … It was Cleveland’s first playoff win since May 1, 2010. … James played in his 72nd postseason game for the Cavs, the most in team history. … Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, recently discharged from a rehab clinic, sat courtside.
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