CLEVELAND — Kevin Love converted 3-pointers, baseline jumpers and powerful finishes at the rim, while LeBron James did a lot of everything and recorded a first in his storied 15-year career.
Cleveland’s stars stuffed the stat sheet early and often as the red-hot Cavaliers won their ninth game in a row, a 108-97 throttling of the Miami Heat that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score suggested on a crazy Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Oh, and James got thrown out in lightning-quick fashion by official Kane Fitzgerald with 1:59 left in the third period for arguing a no-call on a drive and Cleveland up 23. It was his first ejection in 1,082 career games.
“I got fouled and showed my frustration to the ref,” the four-time league MVP said. “He sent me to the locker room. I said what I had to say and I moved on, but he decided I should get two of them (technicals).”
After drawing contact from 7-footer Hassan Whiteside but getting no whistle on his drive to the hoop, James thrust his arm forward in anger and started approaching Fitzgerald, who assessed one technical and then immediately ejected the 32-year-old.
“It was a culmination of a couple different acts,” Fitzgerald told a pool reporter. “Immediately after the no-call, he turned and threw an air punch directly at me and then aggressively charged at me, and then he used vulgarity in my ear a few times.”
The 6-8, 250-pound James, who attacks the rim as much as any player in the league, attempted one free throw on the night.
“I’m one of the league leaders in points in the paint,” the small forward said. “I drive just as much as anybody. At this point, it’s almost like they’re trying to turn me into a jump shooter (by not calling fouls).
“I can’t be a jump shooter. I’m not a jump shooter. I watch games every night and I see jump shooters going to the line multiple times every night. I get fouled just as much as anybody else.”
James’ ejection aside, it was another great night for the Cavs (14-7).
Love, who finished with 38 points and nine boards in just 25 minutes, had 22 points in the first period and 32 points and eight rebounds at halftime as the Cavs took a commanding 75-49.
James, who had 21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals in 28 minutes before getting ejected, had 16 points, 10 boards and six assists at intermission, meaning he and Love had combined for 48 points — on 18-for-25 shooting, no less — 18 rebounds and seven helpers at that juncture.
“The aggressiveness from the whole team was great,” said Love, who was 10-for-16 from the field, 4-for-8 on 3-pointers and 14-for-17 at the line. “It wasn’t just myself.”
This one was so lopsided, so early — the Cavs led by 34 with 8:46 left in the third period before Miami (10-10) made it a 17-point game early in the fourth — that Cleveland’s Jae Crowder picked up his fifth foul in the opening minutes of the second half and coach Tyronn Lue left him in, thinking there was no way he was going to need his power forward down the stretch.
The Cavs, who also got 17 points, five rebounds and four assists from former Miami guard Dwyane Wade, 12 points from J.R. Smith and 11 points from Kyle Korver, quickly built their lead back to 25 before the Heat made a totally cosmetic rally in the closing minutes.
Former Cavs guard Dion Waiters led the Heat with 21 points, but was 3-for-11 on 3-pointers and committed a game-high four turnovers.
“We started messing around a little bit,” Lue said of Miami’s rally. “Home run passes, home run shots.”
Love had 19 points in the first 6:42 of the game and finished the opening period with 22 on 6-for-9 shooting from the field as the Cavs, who led by as many as 18 early on, took a 35-24 lead. The 10th-year pro didn’t play the final 1:22 of the quarter.
A little more than a year ago, Love was even better in the opening period. On Nov. 23, 2016 vs. Portland, the 6-foot-10, 251-pounder made 8-of-10 3-pointers and had an NBA-record 34 points in the first quarter. He finished with 40 points, his high in four seasons with the Cavs.
“I’ve seen it before,” James said. “When you’re on the floor and you’ve seen it before, you keep trying to find him.”
After resting until the 7:10 mark of the second period, Love returned and scored 10 points in the next 4:07, giving him 32 for the night, which tied his season high for a game and matched the most ever given up by Miami in a first half.
The Cavs led 66-43 at that point and stretched their margin to 26 at halftime. In recording a season high for points in a half, Cleveland shot .617 from the field (29-for-47), with Love going 10-for-14 in just 17:18 and James making 8-of-11 in 18:25.
All in all, it was another great effort by the Cavs, who were playing on back-to-back nights for the first time in November. In October, they lost at home to Orlando and at Brooklyn on the second night of back-to-back sets.
“We’re in a great spot right now, a great rhythm,” Lue said. “We’re playing right offensively and defensively.”
Asked if he thought James should have been tossed, a jovial Lue said, “Yep. Should have got thrown out. Yep.” Later, the coach added, “He got kicked out. You want me to go against the ref (and get fined)? Nope.”