BOSTON — The Cleveland Cavaliers, closing in on the return of point guard Kyrie Irving, won their third consecutive game Tuesday night.
With Irving almost ready to make his season debut after recovering from a knee injury, LeBron James capped a 12-0 third-quarter run with a reverse slam dunk, and the Cavs went on to an 89-77 victory over the Boston Celtics.
James, who finished with 24 points, had six during that run and also capped a 10-3 fourth-quarter spurt that made things comfortable for Cleveland (16-7).
The star forward, who shot 10-for-20 from the floor (0-for-3 from 3-point range) and committed five turnovers, also grabbed seven rebounds in the win.
The Celtics (14-11) closed a 13-point deficit to seven, but Cleveland forward Kevin Love hit six points and James two in an 8-0 run that sent folks heading for the exits.
Love, whose 2015 postseason ended on the TD Garden floor when he was injured by Boston forward Kelly Olynyk, scored 20 points and added eight rebounds and five assists.
Guard Avery Bradley led the Celtics with 17 points, while forward Jae Crowder, who played strong defense on James much of the night, added 14. Guard Isaiah Thomas shot 3-for-15 from the floor en route to 12 points.
After the physical confrontations that knocked Love and Crowder out of last year’s playoffs, there was the thought there might be a continuation in this first meeting of the season. Things got a bit sticky late in the second period, when Cleveland guard J.R. Smith, who knocked Crowder out of the playoffs, took Thomas down the a hard foul and Crowder was involved in some talking.
On Cleveland’s next possession, a Boston foul led to Crowder clapping near James.
Things were quiet from that point on.
Smith finished with nine points and six rebounds, and his defense helped hold the Celtics to a season-low point total.
NOTES: Cleveland G Kyrie Irving is nearing his season debut after recovering from a knee injury, saying he has been ready for a few days now. … This was the first meeting between the teams since last year’s playoffs, when Boston F Kelly Olynyk knocked Cleveland F Kevin Lowe out of the playoffs and Cavs G J.R. Smith did the same to Boston F Jae Crowder. Carryover? “I think the biggest thing is, these guys are all adults,” said Boston coach Brad Stevens. “Time heals those things.” However, Cleveland coach David Blatt, asked if he expected any hostility, said, “I think that’s fair to expect, yes.” On Monday, Crowder said he expected Smith to apologize to him. … Boston rookie G R.J. Hunter (hip) was available after missing four games, but Boston was still without G Marcus Smart (leg).