Irving scores 46 points in playoff clincher
LOS ANGELES — Kyrie Irving scored 46 points, LeBron James added 34 and the Cleveland Cavaliers had to rally from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to edge the last-place Los Angeles Lakers, 125-120 on Sunday night.
Kevin Love had 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who needed every bit of their full lineup to survive a surprising challenge from the Western Conference’s last-place team and clinch a playoff spot.
James, Love and Irving all sat out the defending champs’ blowout loss to the Clippers on Saturday, angering fans and the national television audience. That night off left them with the energy to lead a 43-point fourth quarter.
D’Angelo Russell scored a career-high 40 points in a spectacular return to the starting lineup for the Lakers, who have lost five straight and 13 of 14.
Russell hit seven 3-pointers and had six assists while committing just one turnover in 41 minutes.
Jordan Clarkson added 19 points for the Lakers, and rookie Brandon Ingram had 18. All five Lakers starters scored in double figures for the first time since Christmas.
The Cavaliers were carried by their well-rested Big Three, with their teammates contributing just 24 points. Cleveland also lost starter Tristan Thompson in the third quarter when he injured his mouth in a collision with Julius Randle.
After falling behind in the first half and trailing 94-83 early in the fourth quarter, Cleveland finally got rolling behind Irving, who hit six 3-pointers.
Russell hit his new career high on a three-point play with 5:49 to play, but he didn’t score again. The Cavs tied it at 104 moments later on a layup by James.
After Russell committed his only turnover of the night, Irving hit a go-ahead 3-pointer and started Cleveland’s roll to its fifth straight win over the Lakers.
Cleveland eventually made a 21-6 run during the fourth quarter of its fourth win in six games.
Russell came off the bench for the past three games for the Lakers after starting all season. Coach Luke Walton said he simply wanted to experiment with different lineups, and Russell insisted he didn’t mind.
But when Nick Young was ruled out before game time with gastroenteritis, Russell returned to the starting lineup — and he certainly appeared to be motivated.
Scoring from inside and outside while also playmaking, Russell scored 18 points in the first quarter and finished the half with 22 points and no turnovers. He propelled the Lakers to a nine-point lead and an eventual 59-55 halftime advantage.
Cavaliers: Kyle Korver missed his seventh straight game with a sore foot. Coach Tyronn Lue isn’t certain whether Korver will return on this road trip, but reiterated that he’ll probably wait to return J.R. Smith to the starting lineup until Korver is healthy because he wants a shooter available as a reserve. … Smith went 1 for 7 in 26 minutes, making a dunk with 5.9 seconds to play.
Lakers: Young fell ill earlier in the day, Walton said. … Russell surpassed his 39-point performance against Brooklyn last season. That was the game in which he debuted his “Ice in My Veins” post-shot celebration.
Cavaliers: At Nuggets on Wednesday.
Lakers Host Clippers on Tuesday.