CLEVELAND -- It has long been said that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena, point guard Kyrie Irving was that player for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Irving set a new single-game playoff high with 42 points over 41-plus minutes and by finishing plus-nine in points scored during his time on the court, he led the Cavaliers to a 112-99 victory over the Celtics, which gave Cleveland a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into Thursday’s Game 5 matchup in Boston.
“I thought he saw Bron went out, and he wanted to put the team on his shoulders, on his back, and just let us ride him until LeBron got back,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He did that, and we put him in some good situations, iso, where he's one of the best in the league, and he produced for us.”
On his way to the 42 points, Irving converted 15 of his 22 attempts from the field, including four of his seven looks from three-point range and eight of his nine free throws. Along with the points, Irving pulled down three rebounds and assisted on four baskets.
Down by 12 in the early part of the third quarter after a Celtics basket, the Cavaliers slowed chipped away at the deficit with Irving and James at the forefront of the comeback effort.
After Irving made a driving layup, James buried a 17-foot jump shot. Then, James caught a pass from Irving and threw down a slam dunk that brought the crowd to its feet and got the Cavaliers to within seven points of the Celtics, 61-54, with 8:42 to play in the third quarter.
Irving made two straight driving layups in the lane to put the Cavaliers up by five points, 77-72, but on the second shot, he fell to the floor and reached for his lower left leg, which caused concern throughout the arena.
However, after retying his left shoe, Irving jogged down to the defensive end, and hit a driving jump shot on the next possession. Then, Irving completed a three-point play with 1:02 left in the third quarter and beat the buzzer with a deep three-pointer at the end of the period.
“We knew he wouldn't shoot the ball the way he shot it the first couple games,” Lue said. “Kyrie scoring the basketball is not a big deal with us. We know he can score the basketball, and you're going to have nights like tonight and Game 3 where he easily scored the basketball.”
On the strength of 14 straight points from Irving, the Cavaliers came all the way back from a double-digit deficit early in the second half and took an 87-80 lead over the Celtics after the third quarter, and they never looked back.
“Very unstoppable,” Lue said. “He's probably one of or the best one-on-one player in the league. When you give him room and give him space, he can get to anywhere he wants to get on the floor, and we know that, against what I think is probably the best on-ball defender in the league, Avery Bradley.
“To take that challenge and to score a few baskets like that against Avery just shows you how good and special Kyrie is with the basketball because not too many guys are getting around Avery. We've seen that for the last four or five, six years. That just shows you how special he is offensively.”