CLEVELAND — Food poisoning forced Kevin Love to flee the court. Kyrie Irving never stepped on it because of a tight hamstring.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, Kay Felder and Richard Jefferson did an admirable job as part of their makeshift “Big Three.”
LeBron James scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter Monday, allowing Cleveland to rally from a double-digit deficit and escape with a 90-82 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“As ugly as it was tonight, you’ve just got to find a way to get through it — and we did that,” said James, fighting through a case of the flu himself. “You can’t have any excuses, no matter what’s going on with the team. It has to be next man up and when guys’ numbers are called, they’ve got to be ready to go.”
The NBA champion Cavaliers — with just 10 players in uniform — fell behind 63-53 late in the third before ending the game on a 37-19 run. It wouldn’t have occurred without the clutch work of rookie point guard Felder and 36-year-old small forward Jefferson.
New Orleans held a 71-69 lead with 11:02 left when James went to the bench for a rest, only to have Felder trigger a 6-0 run. The second-round pick fed Channing Frye for a short jumper, then made back-to-back hoops to put Cleveland in front for good.
In the fourth, Felder scored eight points and Jefferson led all players with six rebounds.
“My confidence keeps rising the more minutes I play at my pace,” said Felder, who finished with 12 points on 6-of-11 shooting. “Coach (Tyronn Lue) doesn’t want me to look over for a play call every time, he wants me to play my game. I’m loving it.”
Jefferson posted his first double-double since joining the Cavaliers with 12 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. He was a game-best plus-22 in 29 minutes and buried his 1,000th career 3-pointer.
Frye chipped in 14 points and six boards off the bench, while Love had 12 points and 11 rebounds before exiting early in the fourth. Lue said Love has lost 10 pounds during his three-day bout with food poisoning.
“Channing is sick, Kevin is very sick, but guys just stepped up,” the coach said. “Being sick the way they were, trying to play and gutting it out knowing we only had 10 guys was big for us. It was a total team effort.”
Cleveland (26-7) has won 13 of its last 15 games and owns the best record in the Eastern Conference. It has the top home mark in the league at 18-2.
All-NBA center Anthony Davis paced the Pelicans with 20 points and 17 rebounds, but was held scoreless over the final 12:36 by the unique defensive trio of James, Frye and Tristan Thompson.
New Orleans (14-22) also received 20 points from rookie shooting guard Buddy Hield, and 11 points and 13 assists from point guard Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans didn’t attempt a free throw in the first half and had their four-game winning streak end.
“When we need buckets, the team relies on me — and I didn’t deliver,” said Davis, who was 10-of-27 from the field. “We just have to make open shots, mainly myself. It’s on me. In order for us to win, I have to play better overall.”
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry also took the loss hard, lamenting, “We had a 10-point cushion and we let it slip away way too easily. You’ve got to seize the moment when you’re playing the NBA champions on the road.”
James led Cleveland with six assists and grabbed seven rebounds. He also moved past Dominique Wilkins into 14th place all time with his 9,964th field goal, but left the arena with bleary eyes and two packages of cold medicine.
“At some stage, you know that LeBron is going to be LeBron in every game,” Gentry said. “The thing that hurts is he always makes the right play and he always gets the ball to the right people. You saw that with Felder and Frye tonight.”
Cavaliers 90, Pelicans 82
NEW ORLEANS (82): Cunningham 3-5 0-0 6, Hill 2-8 0-0 6, Davis 10-27 0-2 20, Holiday 4-11 1-2 11, Hield 6-13 4-4 20, T.Jones 2-5 2-2 6, Galloway 1-5 0-0 3, Moore 2-5 0-0 6, Evans 2-9 0-0 4. Totals 32-88 7-10 82.
CLEVELAND (90): James 9-21 8-10 26, Love 5-19 2-3 12, Thompson 1-2 0-0 2, Liggins 1-5 0-0 2, McRae 1-5 2-2 4, Jefferson 4-9 3-3 12, Frye 5-9 0-2 14, Felder 6-11 0-0 12, Shumpert 1-7 1-2 3, J.Jones 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 34-90 16-22 90.
New Orleans 22 21 26 13 — 82
Cleveland 15 29 23 23 — 90
3-Point Goals—New Orleans 11-26 (Hield 4-6, Holiday 2-3, Moore 2-3, Hill 2-7, Galloway 1-4, Davis 0-1, Cunningham 0-1, Evans 0-1), Cleveland 6-31 (Frye 4-7, J.Jones 1-2, Jefferson 1-4, Liggins 0-1, Shumpert 0-3, McRae 0-3, James 0-4, Love 0-7). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—New Orleans 45 (Davis 17), Cleveland 56 (Jefferson 12). Assists—New Orleans 26 (Holiday 13), Cleveland 16 (James 6). Total Fouls—New Orleans 18, Cleveland 13.