Al Horford, Kyrie Irving
AP

Kyrie Irving’s 32 lead Cavaliers to 124-118 win over Celtics

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 32 points and made two critical layups before leaving with a leg injury and Kevin Love scored 30, helping the Cleveland Cavaliers hold off a late rally for a 124-118 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.

The Cavs led by 20 points in the third and 17 early in the fourth but couldn’t close out the Celtics, who pulled within one point three times in the final two minutes.

Irving, though, came up with his big baskets and the Cavs had to fend off Boston over the final 53 seconds as their star guard grabbed his right hamstring and went to the bench. His injury did not appear to be serious.

LeBron James had 23 points and 11 assists for the Cavs, who won for the 11th time in 13 games. The only two losses during that stretch came at Memphis and Detroit – games James sat out.

Isaiah Thomas scored 31 and Avery Bradley had 23 but both players were on the bench when the Celtics kept chipping away in the fourth. Bradley and Thomas then both made layups as the Celtics twice got within a point, but Irving countered on consecutive possessions for Cleveland.

Boston was down 120-118 with a chance to steal it, but Jae Crowder missed a 3-pointer with 8.5 seconds left and the Cavs finally sealed it as Richard Jefferson and Love knocked down two free throws apiece.

Following the Cavs’ emotional win over Golden State on Christmas – a rematch of the past two NBA Finals – James was given the next night off in Detroit and Cleveland was thumped 106-90. The loss dropped the Cavs to 4-18 without James the past two years and raised questions about whether they can survive without him.

A day before his 32nd birthday, James flirted with his 46th career triple-double as he finished with eight rebounds. But he also had eight turnovers and the Cavs got sloppy down the stretch, aiding Boston’s comeback.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 17 straight games, the league’s longest current streak. … Bradley jammed his left thumb during the first half but returned. … Coach Brad Stevens’ wife is from the Cleveland area, and on a recent trip to Columbus for a wedding he got to see an Ohio State football practice. Stevens was an assistant at Butler under Buckeyes basketball coach Thad Matta. “He’s got some pull down there, it seems like,” Stevens said. “So we sat over there. They’re pretty impressive. My dad went to medical school at Ohio State. It’s pretty cool to follow their success.”

Cavaliers: Love added 15 rebounds. … Cleveland is 10-0 against the Atlantic Division. … Coach Tyronn Lue was asked what he would give James for his birthday. “Another championship,” he said. “That’s the best gift you can possibly give him, I mean a man who has everything.” … Lue said hearing that James is turning 32 reminds him of his own NBA mortality. He retired at 32. “I wasn’t that good,” Lue cracked. “I tried to hold on, I tried. I tricked a couple people the last few years but I was done.” … James (721) moved past Bingo Smith (720) for the third-most games in franchise history. Only Zydrunas Ilgauskas (771) and Danny Ferry (723) have played more.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Host Miami on Friday. Boston is 2-0 against the Heat this season.

Cavaliers: At Charlotte on Saturday, with a 7 p.m. starting time that conflicts with James being able to watch Ohio State play in the national football semifinals.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.

Donald Sterling’s wife petitioning NBA to overturn his lifetime ban

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Former Clippers owner Donald Sterling settled his lawsuit against the NBA and his wife. Reconciled with Shelley Sterling, Donald sounds – in a recent interview with James Rainey of NBC News – ready to move on.

Rainey:

But his wife, Shelly Sterling, also 83, said in a separate interview that she has not let go of at least one formal blot that remains on Sterling’s record: the lifetime ban from the NBA that was imposed on the long-time Clippers owner after his racist remarks against African-Americans attending games.

Shelly Sterling said she personally approached Silver and also had her attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, talk to the league office about lifting the lifetime ban, which prevents Donald Sterling from attending NBA games. Her intention is not to allow her husband to do business with the league, but to clear his record, in consideration of the 33 years he spent as an owner.

“”I couldn’t understand the severity of the ban. It just seemed a little bit out of line,” Shelly Sterling said. “I have talked to [the NBA] several times and I don’t know what they will do. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t [lift the ban]. Maybe it takes a little bit more time.”

The NBA won’t lift the ban for the same reason it implemented the ban: Associating with Sterling was costing the league money.

Time has cooled the resentment toward Sterling, but overturning the ban would return the venom – and much of it would be directed toward the league. There’s no good reason to open that box.

Besides, Sterling – with his lengthy record of racism and sexism – doesn’t deserve clemency. People like him deserve far more comeuppance than they’ve gotten.

Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan staying in 2017 NBA draft

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Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan declared for the 2016 NBA draft, struggled at the combine, withdrew, got into great shape, had an All-American sophomore season, declared for the 2017 draft.

This time, he’s not turning back.

Swanigan:

Swanigan is a borderline first-round pick. He has a couple NBA-ready skills the good teams that typically pick late in the first round might covet, but thanks to trades, teams that didn’t win a playoff game this year hold most late first-round picks. They might pick someone with more upside than Swanigan.

Swanigan is a tenacious rebounder, particularly defensively. He has excellent fundamentals, size (6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan) and ability to read the ball, and he crashes through contact to hunt boards.

He’s also a quality post-up player who can finish with either hand and has the passing ability to make that play work.

But Swanigan is slow. NBA teams have become increasingly adept at running plodders like him off the court by dragging them into pick-and-rolls. Even when on the court, he hasn’t protected the rim at satisfactory levels.

Swanigan has overcome his athletic limitations as a rebounder. He hasn’t done so in other facets of defense.

He’s hardly a dinosaur offensively. He made 45% of his 3-pointers last season, and though I’m not confident that will translate to NBA 3-point range (give the small sample and his form), he should be at least a midrange threat.

Swanigan is also just 20, young for a sophomore. He can improve.

But it’s just hard to look past his defensive limitations.