CLEVELAND -- Whether it was with the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers or the U.S. Olympic Team, small forward LeBron James has played with many special and talented players, and current teammate Kyrie Irving certainly makes that list.
With James battling foul trouble for much of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena Tuesday night, Irving scored a game-high 42 points and helped the Cavaliers erase a 16-point second-half deficit on the way to 112-99 win, which gave Cleveland a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series heading back to Boston for Game 5 Thursday night.
“I've been saying he's a special kid,” James said of Irving. “He's a special talent. As the stakes get higher and higher, his game gets higher and higher, but it was nothing surprising for me. He rose to the occasion, and he put the team on his back, and we definitely needed that effort from him.”
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.
“The kid is special, and he basically was just waiting for an opportunity to be able to blossom, and I'm just happy and blessed that when I decided to come back, that I was able to help him blossom, I guess, because he gets to play in games that he's always been built for,” James said.
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.
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.
“In Year 1, even though it wasn't the successful season we would have hoped for, it gave him some experience that he didn't have in his first four seasons before I got here,” James said. “But he was already built for it. His game was built for it, and I'm happy, like I said, to be able to, I guess, sit back with four fouls and see him do what he's always been built to do. He was born for these moments.”
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