Getting kicked in the groin didn’t bother LeBron James who had Kyrie Irving back by his side to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers in an impressive demolition of the Boston Celtics, beating them 110-79.
James was a lot more accurate and efficient compared to his night against the Rockets when he took 35 shots and missed eight of 11 from the line. Against the Celtics things felt a lot more comfortable for him, scoring 27 points on 12-of-23 from the field. He seemed to be having fun, both on the sidelines with interesting handshakes and also on the court, with an impressive behind the back move to finish off a fast break he started.
Irving missed two games in a row for the Cavaliers, both of them losses. He was restrained, which is another word for efficient and disciplined, scoring 18 points to go with 5 assists. Five more Cavs players scored in double figures, including 12 by both Kevin Love and J.R Smith. Timofey Mozgov, James Jones and Tristan Thompson each scored 10 points. No one played more than 26 minutes for the Cavaliers, with James not getting to play after being pulled out with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
The win over the Celtics continued a trend for James, who usually does well personally against Boston over the years. He has scored 20 points against the Celtics in 35 consecutive games, trailing the streaks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain who at 57, is going to be difficult to catch. James’ career average of 30.4 against Boston is the second best all-time behind Michael Jordan with 30.7.
It’s hard to say if it was the return of Irving or the weakness of the Celtics that made it look so easy. The Cavaliers, as would any other team, are obviously better when their All-Star point guard is playing; they have the best offense in the league when he’s on the floor, and second from the bottom when he isn’t playing. He hasn’t completely changed his game, but this is definitely a different version of a player often criticized for his selfishness and lack of effort on defense.
Irving has been fantastic for the past two months and especially since January 15. He was averaging 20.7 points on 45.1% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc up until that point, but has improved to 23.4 points, 48.8% from the field and 45.6% from beyond the arc since that date. With him on the floor, the Cavaliers have gone 17-2 during that stretch, which has bounced them up to 4th in the East, 11 games behind the Hawks. The Bulls are 0.5 a game in front of the Cavaliers, the Raptors 1.
When James reached the 25-point mark, he took another step in cementing his legacy in the history books by moving up to 21st on the all-time scoring list. Who did he pass? Ray Allen. With 24,508 career points, James is now 307 points behind Patrick Ewing. That means it’ll take him 11 or 12 games based on his scoring average this season (26.2 points per game) to enter the top 20, which means he still has a few individual milestones to reach this season.