Most of the basketball world booed when the Cleveland Cavaliers rested their three best players on Saturday. Turns out the Big Three needed every bit of that conserved energy a day later to hold off the last-placed Los Angeles Lakers.
Kyrie Irving scored 46 points and LeBron James added 34 as the Cavaliers had to rally from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to edge the Lakers 125-120 on Sunday.
Kevin Love had 21 points and 15 rebounds as the Cavaliers survived a surprising challenge from 20-win opponents to clinch a playoff spot.
With a 43-point fourth quarter, Cleveland made sure the Lakers did not put an unsightly dent in their hopes of securing the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
“We were out of sync a little bit, but they shot the ball extremely well,” James said. “We just had to figure out a way to weather the storm ... [The Lakers] played well. They don’t look like a team that’s won only 20 games.”
James, Love and Irving all sat out the defending champions’ blowout loss to the Clippers earlier in the weekend, angering fans and the national TV audience.
James, the budding entertainment mogul with a game show on NBC, joked with Denzel Washington and other celebrities while he played, but still made sure the Cavaliers got their work done.
“[The Lakers] played well against us, but I know our team and the way we are,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Sometimes you have to understand it is not a show, but a competition. When we get to LA and play teams like this, we consider it a show instead of a competition. When you get down early, it hurts your confidence, and now you’ve got to fight and try to win your game.”
D’Angelo Russell scored a career-high 40 points on his return to the starting lineup for the Lakers, who have lost five straight and 13 of 14. Russell hit seven three-pointers and had six assists while committing just one turnover in 41 minutes.
“He’s a special guy,” James said. “He’s a special player. Russell was extremely hot tonight and those guys fed off him.”
Jordan Clarkson added 19 points for the Lakers, while rookie Brandon Ingram had 18.
All five Lakers starters scored in double figures for the first time since Christmas.