CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 30 points, Kyrie Irving added 26 and the Cleveland Cavaliers finally shook off Boston in the fourth quarter, beating the Celtics 99-91 on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in their opening-round series.
James scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, moved past Hall of Famer Jerry West on the career playoff scoring list and made sure the Cavs didn’t slip up at home. He and Irving combined for all of Cleveland’s 24 points in the final period.
Timofey Mozgov added 16 points and Tristan Thompson had 11 rebounds for Cleveland, which has had a tougher time than expected with a young Boston team.
Isaiah Thomas scored 22 points for the Celtics, who scrapped and clawed until the final minutes. Boston’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 51-7.
Game 3 of the best-of-7 series is Thursday night in Boston, where James had his first stint with Cleveland end with a playoff loss in 2010.
Leading by one at halftime, and playing as poorly as they have in weeks, the Cavaliers came out energized in the second half and used a 17-4 run to open a 14-point lead.
The spurt was capped with Irving tossing a lob pass to James who dunked and then swung on the rim like a little kid on a school playground. But the Cavs couldn’t shake the Celtics, who pulled within 79-77 on a three-point play by Thomas.
However, James, as he has so often done in his brilliant career, made big shots down the stretch, none bigger than his driving layup with 1:13 left, giving the Cavs a 97-89 lead. Thompson grabbed three crucial offensive rebounds in the final 3 minutes to keep possessions alive for Cleveland.
Hoping to inspire his team, Celtics coach Brad Stevens showed his players a videotape before the game of a runner stricken with Muscular Dystrophy who ran in Monday’s Boston Marathon. Maichel Melamed of Venezuela needed 18 hours to complete the 26-mile event and was the final racer to finish, but he persisted and Stevens wanted the Celtics to take the same mentality into Game 2.
They had it, but they didn’t have James, who again showed why he may be in a class by himself.
Stevens was honored to finish fourth in voting for NBA Coach of the Year, but took the acknowledgment with typical humility.
“I’m not big on the postseason stuff,” he said. “We all try to do our jobs to the best of our ability. I’ve learned from all 29 coaches in this league. There’s no way you can appropriately rank them.”
Told he finished ahead of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Stevens cracked, “That’s bad voting.”
Celtics: Boston went 6 of 22 from 3-point range. … Stevens canceled the team’s morning shootaround in order to get his players extra rest. “I’m big on fresh legs, clear mind,” he said. … When possible, Stevens said he would prefer players to pass up a 2-point shot for a 3-pointer. “They say the worst shot in basketball is the long 2,” he said. “If it goes in, it’s better than a miss.”
Cavaliers: J.R. Smith went just 3 of 12 from the field. He was in foul trouble in Game 1. … Just as he did during the regular season, James is moving up several career postseason lists. He went past Michael Jordan in assists on Sunday, and now that he has passed West (4,457), Karl Malone (4,761) is next on the scoring list. Jordan is first (5,987). … Cavs coach David Blatt joked that his three daughters are making the most of their visit from Israel. “They’re shopping up a storm,” he said. “I’m getting all these calls from my credit card company, ‘We don’t recognize this charge.’ You know the deal.”
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