CLEVELAND >> Kyrie Irving scored 32 points and made two critical layups before leaving with a leg injury and Kevin Love scored 30, helping the Cleveland Cavaliers hold off a late rally for a 124-118 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
The Cavs led by 20 points in the third and 17 early in the fourth but couldn’t close out the Celtics, who pulled within one point three times in the final two minutes.
Irving, though, came up with his big baskets and the Cavs had to fend off Boston over the final 53 seconds as their star guard grabbed his right hamstring and went to the bench. His injury did not appear to be serious.
LeBron James had 23 points and 11 assists for the Cavs, who won for the 11th time in 13 games. The only two losses during that stretch came at Memphis and Detroit — games James sat out.
Isaiah Thomas scored 31 and Avery Bradley had 23 but both players were on the bench when the Celtics kept chipping away in the fourth. Bradley and Thomas then both made layups as the Celtics twice got within a point, but Irving countered on consecutive possessions for Cleveland.
Boston was down 120-118 with a chance to steal it, but Jae Crowder missed a 3-pointer with 8.5 seconds left and the Cavs finally sealed it as Richard Jefferson and Love knocked down two free throws apiece.
Following the Cavs’ emotional win over Golden State on Christmas — a rematch of the past two NBA Finals — James was given the next night off in Detroit and Cleveland was thumped 106-90. The loss dropped the Cavs to 4-18 without James the past two years and raised questions about whether they can survive without him.
A day before his 32nd birthday, James flirted with his 46th career triple-double as he finished with eight rebounds. But he also had eight turnovers and the Cavs got sloppy down the stretch, aiding Boston’s comeback.
Celtics: Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 17 straight games, the league’s longest current streak. … Bradley jammed his left thumb during the first half but returned. … Coach Brad Stevens’ wife is from the Cleveland area, and on a recent trip to Columbus for a wedding he got to see an Ohio State football practice. Stevens was an assistant at Butler under Buckeyes basketball coach Thad Matta. “He’s got some pull down there, it seems like,” Stevens said. “So we sat over there. They’re pretty impressive. My dad went to medical school at Ohio State. It’s pretty cool to follow their success.”
Cavaliers: Love added 15 rebounds. … Cleveland is 10-0 against the Atlantic Division. … Coach Tyronn Lue was asked what he would give James for his birthday. “Another championship,” he said. “That’s the best gift you can possibly give him, I mean a man who has everything.” … Lue said hearing that James is turning 32 reminds him of his own NBA mortality. He retired at 32. “I wasn’t that good,” Lue cracked. “I tried to hold on, I tried. I tricked a couple people the last few years but I was done.” … James (721) moved past Bingo Smith (720) for the third-most games in franchise history. Only Zydrunas Ilgauskas (771) and Danny Ferry (723) have played more.
Celtics: Host Miami on Friday. Boston is 2-0 against the Heat this season.
Cavaliers: At Charlotte on Saturday, with a 7 p.m. starting time that conflicts with James being able to watch Ohio State play in the national football semifinals.