Cleveland — More than hour after his first playoff game with LeBron James and Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving made a statement more profound than anything he did on the floor.
“We,” Irving said, “are the Big 3. We have really great players on this team, but we set the tone.”
Irving scored 30 points in his playoff debut, James added 20 in his first playoff game with Cleveland in five years and Love shook off a slow start to record a double-double, leading the Cavaliers to a 113-100 win in Game 1 over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
Irving made five 3-pointers and Love, another postseason rookie, added 19 points — 13 in the second half — and 12 rebounds
James was proud of how his teammates handled their first venture onto the playoff stage.
“They were phenomenal,” he said. “Those two guys, they succeeded for the first time being in the postseason.”
It was Cleveland’s first home playoff game since May 11, 2010, when the Celtics won Game 5 and James left the floor to some boos from Cavaliers fans. He departed for Miami two months later, but he’s home now, all is forgiven and Cleveland is aiming to end a championship drought dating to 1964.
Isaiah Thomas scored 22 points to lead the seventh-seeded Celtics. They will try to even the best-of-7 series in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
“We’re still confident,” Thomas said. “Guys are ready for Game 2, knowing that good or bad you’ve got to have a short memory. There are possibly seven games in this series and it could go either way.”
The Cavs built a 20-point lead in the third quarter, let the Celtics get as close as six and then finished the quarter with a 9-0 run — capped a 3-pointer by James Jones — to take a 15-point lead into the fourth.
Boston climbed within 10 in the final 12 minutes, but Love made a crucial 3-pointer with 3:32 left to slow Boston.
In the days leading up to the opener, James said he was confident Irving and Love would be ready for the playoffs, but added “you never know,” perhaps the superstar’s way of motivating his teammates. Irving and Love looked like playoff veterans as Cleveland’s “Big 3” combined for 69 points.
Irving said four days of preparation helped the Cavs get ready, and while he and Love didn’t say they were nervous, they both seemed relieved to have the opener behind them.
“I’m just glad I got Game 1 out of the way,” Irving said.
Love started slowly, going 2 of 11 in the first half. But he was assertive in the third quarter, and James liked what he saw in a player whose game has been scrutinized all season.
“Even with Kev’s shot not falling early, I felt like just the rhythm he was in, the aggressive he was in will pay off for us later,” James said.
James came in with more playoff experience — 158 games — than Boston’s entire roster, an inequality that seemed to favor the Cavaliers. However, the young Celtics weren’t overwhelmed on the bigger stage or intimidated by Cleveland’s towel-waving fans sporting T-shirts that said, “All In,” the team’s postseason slogan.
Boston led by eight in the first quarter, but got careless with the ball and finished with 14 turnovers.
“We’ll learn from it and improve from it,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Very simple. I don’t want to overdo it. This is a long series.”
(At) Memphis 100, Portland 86: Reserve Beno Udrih scored 20 points and the Grizzlies never trailed in routing the Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series.
Zach Randolph (Michigan State) had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Marc Gasol added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Mike Conley finished with 16 points and didn’t play the fourth quarter. Jeff Green had 11.
LaMarcus Aldridge led Portland with 32 points while taking more shots than anyone had ever taken against Memphis in the postseason, going 13 of 34.
(At) Atlanta 99, New Jersey 92: Kyle Korver scored 21 points, including five 3-pointers, and the top-seeded Hawks held off the pesky Nets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoff series.
The Hawks led nearly the entire game and pushed the margin as high as 16 points, but the Nets kept coming back.