LeBron James and Kyrie Irving shake hands after the Cavaliers defeated the Celtics on Tuesday.
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CLEVELAND — LeBron James got thunderous (and deserved) applause, boos rained down on Kyrie Irving (at least early on) and gasps followed a gruesome first-quarter injury suffered by Gordon Hayward.
Led by James, whose availability for the game was at least a tiny bit in doubt due to a sprained left ankle, the Cavaliers defeated Irving and his new team, the Boston Celtics, 102-99 Tuesday in a multi-themed NBA season opener at The Q.
James finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists in 41 fantastic minutes, while Kevin Love added 15 points and 11 boards and Derrick Rose had 14 points.
“It was fun to play,” James said. “It’s a great start to the NBA season.”
Former Cavs point guard Irving, booed loudly in pregame introductions for requesting a trade and then saying a few things Cleveland fans took offense to after it was granted, had 22 points and 10 assists.
The game ended with Irving missing a contested 3-pointer that was in a similar spot to the one he made when Cleveland beat Golden State in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Irving, who got fewer boos as the game progressed, also received a technical foul coming out of a timeout with 11:15 left in the third period after jawing with players on the Cavs bench.
As for the organization’s planned video tribute to its former point guard, it was never shown, the official explanation being the right moment never presented itself. There were reports, however, that several Cleveland players expressed anger about the planned tribute when they heard about it Monday.
Cavs players admitted after the game it was an emotional night, but as James said, “Once the ball went up, it was back to our regularly scheduled programming.”
The Cavs, who led by 18 in the first half, trailed most of the fourth quarter but took the lead for good on a drive by James with 1:19 to play. The four-time league MVP then passed out of a double-team in the low post and Love hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to put the Cavs up 102-98 with 46.3 seconds to go.
James later missed a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to go and the Cavs up three, but Boston’s Jaylen Brown (25 points) missed a three at the other end. The rebound was batted out to Irving, who missed a 3-pointer from the right wing over James’ outstretched arm as time expired.
“I wanted to contest, but I didn’t want to foul,” James said. “It’s kind of one of his sweet spots, the right wing.”
The nationally televised game was marred by a sickening fractured left ankle suffered by Boston’s Hayward with 6:45 left in the first period.
The injury, which was as grotesque as those suffered in the NFL by Joe Theismann and Tim Krumrie, in college basketball by Louisville’s Kevin Ware and in summer play by the NBA’s Paul George, had nearby Cavs bench players turning away in shock and pulling their warm-up jackets over their faces, while Cleveland starter Dwyane Wade knelt and bowed his head.
Hayward, who signed a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics in the offseason, left the floor sitting up on a stretcher with his left leg immobilized.
The All-Star small forward was attempting to catch a lob pass when James slightly came across his raised arm and Jae Crowder brushed his lower body, leading to an awkward and ugly fall.
During the break between the first and second quarters, James went into the Cavs locker room, where Hayward was receiving medical attention. Injured Cleveland guard Isaiah Thomas, who helped recruit Hayward to Boston over the summer before being traded to the Cavs, also visited with the 27-year-old.
“This is a brotherhood at the end of the day,” Wade said. “No one wants to see that.”
The injury appeared to drain even the crowd for 2 1/2 quarters, as fans were less boisterous in their booing of Irving until picking things up again in the fourth period.
The Cavs’ putrid third quarter also dampened the atmosphere for a time. Up 16 at halftime, listless Cleveland was outscored 33-18 in the third and led just 72-71 heading into the final period.
The Celtics even took a 71-69 lead on a hoop by Marcus Smart with 4.7 seconds left in the third — he abused Cleveland veteran Kyle Korver in the quarter — but a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Rose put the Cavs back up by one.
Resilient Boston led by three with 2:03 to go in the game, but the Cavs rallied behind James, who forced a key turnover down the stretch in addition to his crucial scoring and passing.
“We leaned on him,” Wade said. “We depended on him. That’s why he’s the greatest.”
- Irving scored the first points of the game on a floater in the lane and Boston led 12-9 at the time play was stopped due to Hayward’s injury, but the rest of the first half was all Cleveland, which led 54-38 at the break.
- Boston finished the game 8-for-32 on 3-pointers (.250), while the Cavs, who led the league in 3-point percentage a year ago (.390), were worse at 5-for-22 (.227).
Cavs 102, Celtics 99
BOSTON (99): Hayward 1-2 0-0 2, Tatum 5-11 3-3 14, Horford 2-7 5-7 9, Irving 8-17 2-2 22, Brown 11-23 1-2 25, Ojeleye 0-2 0-0 0, Baynes 2-2 2-4 6, Rozier 2-6 4-4 9, Smart 5-16 2-3 12, Larkin 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 36-87 19-25 99.
CLEVELAND (102): James 12-19 4-4 29, Crowder 3-10 4-4 11, Love 4-9 6-7 15, Rose 5-14 3-4 14, Wade 3-10 2-2 8, Thompson 2-3 1-3 5, Green 3-8 0-0 6, Korver 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 4-7 1-1 10, Shumpert 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 38-83 21-25 102.
Boston 19 19 33 28 — 99
Cleveland 29 25 18 30 — 102
3-Point Goals—Boston 8-32 (Irving 4-9, Brown 2-9, Tatum 1-2, Rozier 1-3, Hayward 0-1, Ojeleye 0-1, Larkin 0-1, Horford 0-2, Smart 0-4), Cleveland 5-22 (Smith 1-3, Rose 1-3, Love 1-4, Crowder 1-5, James 1-5, Wade 0-1, Green 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Boston 46 (Tatum 10), Cleveland 49 (James 16). Assists—Boston 24 (Irving 10), Cleveland 19 (James 9). Total Fouls—Boston 24, Cleveland 25. Technicals—Boston coach Celtics (Defensive three second), Irving, Horford, Cleveland coach Cavaliers (Defensive three second) 2. A—20,562 (20,562).