BOSTON – Kyrie Irving had been here so many times the last three seasons – down big, carrying his team and knowing it wouldn’t be enough.
Usually, he’d keep the ball in his hands, boost his individual numbers and go home with a loss.
Now, he has another answer.
His Cavaliers down 19 early in the fourth quarter, Irving outscored the Celtics himself, 13-4, during a three-minute stretch. Then he gave LeBron James a simple message: “Be aggressive.”
LeBron outscored Boston himself, 10-7, in the final six minutes, and Cleveland escaped Boston with a 122-121 win Friday.
“I know what he’s capable of, and everybody in the world knows what he’s capable of,” Irving said. “It’s more or less, I feel like he takes his foot off the gas a little bit when he can punish guys. He knows it. He’s been in this league a long time. I’m not telling him anything he doesn’t know.”
The Cavaliers (4-3) have their first winning record since LeBron’s return, and this matches the deepest into the season they’ve been above .500 since he left.
But this victory hardly had Cleveland celebrating.
Defensive issues continue to plague the Cavaliers, who allowed 42 third-quarter points to Boston.
“I was really considering taking the Greyhound to Framingham at about that point,” said Cleveland coach David Blatt, a Boston native who grew up in the suburb. “I was looking for it. I’ve been on that bus more than a few times in my life.”
He stuck around and watched LeBron peak late en route to a season-high 41 points. But this was hardly LeBron’s most aesthetically pleasing game. He spent much of the night barreling into defenders and haggling with the referees about his season-high four fouls.
“We won ugly,” said Irving, who finished with 27 points. “We don’t necessarily use that as a safety net, because we have a lot of talent on this team, and we can get away with wins like this.”
But nobody wants to get away with wins like this – not when the goals are so high.
LeBron is being more aggressive after intentionally taking a back seat earlier in the season, an outcome Blatt was less than pleased with. Still, LeBron continues to preach the same message of his teammates stepping up.
“Right now, I feel like the young guys are like my kids,” LeBron said. “They’re not accustomed to reading textbooks. They like iPads, and you have to show them what’s better for them.”
For a night, Irving showed he understood how to win – seeking the help of LeBron, who said he likes to be challenged by teammates.
“All you’ve got to do is talk to me,” LeBron said, pausing, and then continuing, “and I’ll answer.”