LOS ANGELES — Having rested the Big 3 against the Clippers on Saturday and taken a bunch of grief for it, and with a playoff berth riding on a victory, the Cavs would’ve looked pretty silly had they lost to the Lakers Sunday night.
Right now, all they look like is the first team in the East to book a spot in the postseason.
Kyrie Irving went off for 46 points and the Cavs overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers 125-120. LeBron James added 34 points and Kevin Love contributed 21 points and 15 boards.
It was the least they could do after getting the night off in Saturday’s 30-point loss to the Clippers.
Former Ohio State standout D’Angelo Russell erupted for a career-high 40 points for the Lakers, but just three in the final quarter.
The Cavs (46-23) now hold a 2.5-game lead over Boston for first place in the East with 13 games left. It wasn’t exactly the biggest of deals for them to clinch that playoff berth. As the defending champs, they kind of knew it was coming.
Nevertheless, the Cavs are indeed headed to the playoffs for the third straight year.
“Having the best player in the world and Kyrie and Kevin, we should at least get into the playoffs, worst-case scenario,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “I guess you could say, yeah, we take that for granted.”
Cleveland has now beaten the Lakers a franchise-record six consecutive times, having swept them in all three of James’ seasons back with the Cavs.
Irving’s sore left knee looked strong. He scored 14 in the fourth quarter and finished the game shooting 15-of-21 from the field with six 3-pointers. His streak of 18 games with at least 20 points is currently the longest in the NBA.
James also scored 14 in the final frame. When the quarter began, the Cavs trailed 92-82. His layup with 5:06 left tied the score at 104. Irving’s 3-pointer soon after put Cleveland ahead for good, 109-106.
The Cavs lost Tristan Thompson in the third quarter to a mouth injury. He collided with Julius Randle and went to the locker room. Thompson played his NBA-best 439th consecutive game Sunday night. Is the streak in jeopardy?
Cleveland’s players who suited up Saturday against the Clippers really struggled. Thompson at least had 10 boards. J.R. Smith was 0-of-6 from the field and Iman Shumpert was 3-of-8. Richard Jefferson was the Cavs’ fourth-leading scorer with seven points.
Love played 26 minutes and shot 6-of-15. James added seven assists and six rebounds.
The Cavs scored as many points in the first quarter (31) against the Lakers as they had in the entire first half against the Clippers. What, or who, could possibly have been the difference? The Big 3, perhaps? Irving scored 11 in the first, while James and Love each had nine.
Again, this was a night for the Cavs to rely on the Big 3.
Los Angeles had five players in double figures. After Russell, who scored 18 points alone in the first quarter, Brandon Ingram scored 18.
NEXT: The Cavs are off until Wednesday, when they play in Denver at 9 p.m.