Kyrie Irving scored 32 points to allow the Cleveland Cavaliers to hold on for a 124-118 victory on Thursday against the Boston Celtics.
The Cavaliers nearly blew an 18-point lead entering the fourth. A driving basket by Isaiah Thomas pulled Boston within 117-116 with about a minute left before Irving countered with a drive of his own.
Thomas was then fouled on the Celtics’ next possession and sank both free throws as Irving, grabbing at his right hamstring on his way off the floor, was subbed out of the game with 47 seconds left.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said he thought Irving would be fine to play on Saturday when the Cavs visit Charlotte, but Irving would not commit to anything until he sees how he feels on Friday.
Irving’s absence left the ball in James’ turnover-prone hands on the Cavs’ final possession.
James was fouled with 21 seconds left and split the free throws to give the Cavs a 120-118 lead, but left the Celtics with a chance to send the game to overtime or win it at the buzzer with a three-pointer.
Jae Crowder’s open look with 10 seconds remaining, however, clanked off the rim and Cleveland’s Richard Jefferson grabbed the rebound.
“I thought it was good,” Crowder said. “I had a good look at it. My coaches had confidence in me to make that. I’ll step into it a 100 more times.”
Thomas scored 31 points and Avery Bradley added 23 points for the Celtics, who scored 35 points in the fourth.
Kevin Love scored 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while James had 23 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He also committed eight turnovers and shot just 3-of-7 from the free-throw line.
“I was horrible tonight,” James said. “In every facet of the game, I was just pretty bad and it’s unacceptable.”
The Cavs had built a 101-81 lead late in the third before the Celtics fought back in the fourth.
“We give them a good shot every time we see these guys,” Crowder said. “They’re at the top of the Eastern Conference. It’s not wearing on us in any kind of way.”