Los Angeles, May 24 (AFP): Kyrie Irving and LeBron James combined for 76 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers battled to a 112-99 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday to move within one game of a place in the NBA Finals.
The win gives Cleveland a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and leaves them firmly on track for a third consecutive NBA Finals showdown against the Golden State Warriors.
Cleveland, stunned by Boston in Game 3 after romping two blowout wins in the opening two games of the Eastern Conference series, looked to be heading for another shock as the Celtics dominated the first half.
Boston powered into a 29-19 first quarter lead and maintained their 10-point cushion through to half-time, leading 57-47 at the break.
But as tension among Cleveland’s home fans mounted at the Quicken Loans Arena, it was left to Irving to ride to the rescue with a sensational, momentum-changing display in the third quarter.
Irving piled on 21 points in the third period as Cleveland turned their 10-point half-time deficit into an 87-80 lead at the end of the third quarter. Irving eventually finished with 42 points.
“Coming out at half-time, I just wanted to be aggressive and lead my guys and leave it all out there on the floor,” Irving said.
James, determined to bounce back after a poor 11-point haul in Game 3, then steadied the Cleveland nerves in the fourth quarter, bringing the Cavaliers home for the win as Boston’s brave effort came up short.
James, who finished with 34 points, was joined in double figures by Kevin Love, who scored 17 points with 17 rebounds and five assists.
James, Irving and Love were the only three Cavs players to make double digits.
– ‘The kid is special’ –
But it was Irving who was the undeniable star of the show for his spellbinding third quarter masterpiece that transformed the game.
“The kid is special,” James said. “He was just waiting for an opportunity to blossom. I’m just happy and blessed that when I decided to come back that I was able to help him blossom.
“I’m just happy to be able to sit back, with four fouls, and see him do what he’s always been built to do. He was born for these moments.”
Love meanwhile revealed that the Cavaliers had not panicked at half-time when they trailed by 10.
“We’ve been in that position before,” Love said. “It’s just an effort all around. We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of playoff minutes who’ve been in situations like that before.
“But while I can sit here and say that, Kyrie Irving was very special tonight.”
Boston, missing the injured Isaiah Thomas, had four players in double figures, with Avery Bradley scoring a leading 19 points.
Game 5 takes place in Boston on Thursday.
Asked to give a reason for Boston’s second half problems, Celtics coach Brad Stevens had a simple answer: “Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. That’s the answer. Kyrie Irving was incredible.
“We played as well as we’d played in the entire playoffs in the first half and then for various reasons that didn’t happen in the second half. But they deserve credit. They were incredible.”