CLEVELAND, Ohio — Maybe this is what LeBron James always envisioned, his two younger wingmates and stars thriving alongside him. Occasionally in front of him.
Through four games now, including the Cavs’ 128-120 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, Kyrie Irving is the team’s clear scoring leader. He poured in 32 in this one (11 in the fourth quarter) and is averaging 26.8 points per night.
Kevin Love scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, all nine coming in a stretch about about 1:25 in the middle of the period. Love also contributed two steals in the fourth during a crucial stretch, the second of the two sparking his personal, nine-point run. He’s contributing 21.0 points per game.
And then there’s James, bringing up the rear for the Big Three with 19 points. The Eastern Conference’s reigning player of the week also registered 13 rebounds and eight assists. He’s averaging 20.5 ppg.
The balance is working. The defending champs are on a four-game winning streak to start the season (and seven, if you go back to Game 5 of the Finals). This is the franchise’s longest winning streak to begin a season since 2000-01.
Before the game, coach Tyronn Lue said this kind of scoring balance is something the Cavs could maintain for an entire 82-game campaign. If that’s true, look out.
“We’ve been getting a lot of open shots and those are shots that Kevin usually makes that he’s not making right now,” Lue said. “But if he makes two or three of those shots a game, he can be averaging 24 points a game so, the way our offense is constructed and the way guys are playing and the shooters that we have on the floor, guys are going to get open shots every night and it just depends on if they make them or not.
“And with LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin, all three are great players. They can all average 20 points per game with other guys chipping in also. So, it’s very possible.”
If not for the Rockets’ 3-point shooting, the Cavs would’ve put this one away early in the fourth quarter and headed over to Progressive Field for Game 6 of the World Series. Cleveland shot an astounding 13-of-15 from the field (87 percent) in the final frame.
The Cavs scored 43 in the fourth quarter, three points shy of their team record for points in any period.
“Another thanks to Griff, David Griffin for putting this team together and putting shooters that we have on this team and guys that have been in those positions,” Irving said. “We had different combinations in the fourth quarter and we just trust each other, especially with the pass.”
But Houston made eight of its 17 3-pointers for the game in that final quarter. James Harden scored 10 of his 41 points in the final frame, and finished with 15 rebounds and seven assists.
Irving is on some kind of roll, and that it continued against Houston should be no surprise. He entered play averaging 27.3 points per game against the Rockets, his highest scoring average against any NBA team.
While the stat sheet looked great, James had a bit of a strange night. He didn’t score until the 11:38 mark of the second quarter, and left the game with 5:08 remaining in the half. He didn’t return until the teams came back out to warm up for the third quarter.
While he was in the locker room, team physician Dr. Richard Parker and Mike Mancias, James’ trainer, were summoned. But no update on James’ status was given and he returned to the game when play resumed for the third quarter. Lue later said James was in the bathroom.
With James out, Irving scored the Cavs’ final 12 points before halftime.
J.R. Smith added 15 points, all on 3-pointers. He passed current assistant coach Damon Jones (344 3-pointers) for ninth in team history in 3s.
Channing Frye, who returned after missing the last two games because of the death of his mother, scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds off the bench. Mike Dunleavy also contributed 11 points and four boards.
“We missed Channing,” Lue said. “The last two games we really missed Channing in our rotation. Shooting the basketball, our matchups, when 5s have to guard him, it’s a hard matchup for 5-men to guard him so we really missed him in that second lineup and it’s good to have him back.”