NBA PLAYOFFS Irving, LeBron lift Cavs over Celtics

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.

With James saddled with four first-half fouls for the first time in his career and the Cavaliers staring a second straight shocking home loss to the Celtics in the face, Irving took over with 21 of his playoff career-high 42 points in an incredible third-quarter display to lead the Cavaliers to a 112-99 win in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena.

Cleveland not only surrendered a 21-point lead in but blew chances to set a play-off record for consecutive wins (14), dating to Game Five of last year's National Basketball Association finals, and to become the fourth team in history to start the playoffs 11-0. Coach Brad Stevens said no decision had been made yet on whether Thomas would undergo an operation but he reiterated that he is out for the remainder of the playoffs.

"I think he's going to be aggressive (in Game 4)", Boston shooting guard Avery Bradley said. But this one might not considering how many games the superstar has played without this occurring. They fought from behind the whole game until the Celtics tied it up about midway through the fourth. Boston could swing the ball around the perimeter all the way to Smart, who then wobbles his way through traffic-with his dribble being almost poked away on several occasions-into a wild layup attempt kept down but by the lip of the rim. But Cleveland got complacent, Smart got hot and the Celtics, who arrived at Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday morning for their shootaround without Thomas and looking somewhat defeated, never gave up.

As he has done all series, Love continued to be a headache for Boston's defense by knocking down seven threes in the first half. The point guard had 17 points and six assists in the first half, when he was 5-for-6 from the field and ideal on four 3-pointers. Crowder stayed in the game to guard LeBron. They trailed by 10 when he departed with 6:46 left and trailed by 10 - 57-47 - at halftime.

Sunday night, the Boston Celtics pulled off a historic NBA Playoffs upset.

But it was Irving who was the undeniable star of the show for his spellbinding third quarter masterpiece that transformed the game. But Ty Lue made a decision to keep him in the game. They played their game and chipped away at the deficit as Cleveland began to slowly cool down.

One measure of how reliable James has become at this time of year is that some people don't buy that explanation. James (34 points) and Kevin Love (17 points) also contributed. The Cavs went from 10 down to leading by 9 within the span of the third. The Cavaliers needed some adversity in these playoffs and they got it in Games 3 and 4. In the first half, the Celtics had 17 assists on 21 field goals.

Cleveland were none too pleased, especially J.R. Smith, who said star team-mate James was not aggressive or confident enough during that game.

With James in foul trouble, Irving was forced to do more than ever and he delivered, scoring 19 in less than five minutes and 33 in a 19-minute stretch.

The short media availability session finished with a reporter asking James what the keys would be for Game 4.

The Cavs drew to within three, 61-58, after Kelly Olynyk picked up his fourth foul with 8:30 left in the third. A pair of Jonas Jerebko free throws made it a 66-58 game. Boston built a big lead and had all the momentum early. He added an and-one layup next.

Said James of the performance, "The kid is special".

Cleveland Cavaliers' James Jones, right, and LeBron James sit on the bench against the Boston Celtics during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Cleveland.

  • Salvatore Jensen