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Kyrie Irving scores 37, Cavaliers hold on to beat Pacers 117-111

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CLEVELAND (AP) Kyrie Irving scored 37 points, Kevin Love added 27 and the Cleveland Cavaliers avoided another fourth-quarter collapse in Game 2, beating the Indiana Pacers 117-111 on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

After squeaking out the opener by a point, LeBron James and Co. showed more intensity on defense, more swagger in general and won their 10th straight first-round game over the past three seasons.

However, they nearly blew an 18-point lead in the fourth as the Pacers got within four before Cleveland closed it out at the line.

James added 10 rebounds and seven assists, but had eight of Cleveland’s 19 turnovers.

Game 3 is Thursday night.

Paul George scored 32 and Jeff Teague 23 for Indiana, which showed more fight, but now has a steep hill to climb to get back in the series. Cleveland is 12-0 when starting 2-0 in the postseason.

The Cavs vowed they would play better after their near-disaster in Game 1 and they backed up their talk, delivering the kind of performance that was routine last season but very rare in 2017.

Love scored 10 straight and drew a charging foul on Lance Stephenson in a span of two minutes as the Cavs opened an 89-70 lead. Irving closed the quarter by draining a 3-pointer over Stephenson and the All-Star made sure Indiana’s antagonizing guard knew about it, yapping in his direction long after the horn sounded.

The Cavs still led 109-91 with 6:09 left, but the Pacers ripped off 13 straight points and were within 113-109 when George hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left.

It continued a disturbing trend for the Cavs, who have been giving up late, big leads with regularity.

The other hitch for Cleveland was that starting guard J.R. Smith didn’t play in the second half because of a left hamstring injury. Iman Shumpert, who sat the opener, replaced Smith and played 20 solid minutes.

Despite losing the opener, Pacers coach Nate McMillian insisted his team hadn’t lost any confidence.

“We believe,” he said. “We came in believing, we still believe.”

It just got a lot harder.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Glenn Robinson III returned after missing the past 12 games with a strained left calf. He scored four in nine minutes. … C Al Jefferson was active, but didn’t play. He’s been out since March 26 with a sprained left ankle. … George has made at least one 3-pointer in 19 consecutive playoff games. … McMillan said the team was told by security officials to stay in their hotel Sunday night while Cleveland police searched for a suspected killer, who randomly murdered an elderly man while posting the shooting on Facebook. … Indiana is 0-9 when dropping the first two games in a series.

Cavaliers: James (357) jumped Magic Johnson (358) for third place in career playoff steals and hopped Robert Parish for eighth in rebounds. … A moment of silence was observed for Robert Godwin Sr., the 73-year-old tragically gunned down by the Facebook assailant. … Stephenson had a strong workout with Cleveland in January before latching on with Indiana, but coach Tyronn Lue said his recent injury issues – groin surgery and an Achilles issue – dissuaded the Cavs from signing him. … James has scored at least 30 points with 10 assists in 13 career playoff games, trailing only Jerry West (14) and Michael Jordan (15).

UP NEXT

After two days off, the series resumes in Indianapolis on Thursday. The Pacers went 29-19 at home during the regular season.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.