May 23, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives to the basket in the first quarter against the Boston Celtics in game four of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving (42 points) saves Cavaliers, Celtics can’t hold 16-point lead

Mike Petraglia
May 23, 2017 - 10:54 pm

Kyrie Irving saved LeBron James, Ty Lue and the city of Cleveland from a total state of panic Tuesday night. 

With James saddled with four first-half fouls for the first time in his career and the Cavaliers staring a second straight shocking home loss to the Celtics in the face, Irving took over with 21 of his playoff career-high 42 points in an amazing third-quarter display to lead the Cavaliers to a 112-99 win in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena. 

The Celtics, who led by as many as 16 in the first half before a shell-shocked crowd, will try to stave off elimination Thursday night in Game 5 of the Eastern finals at TD Garden. 

“That stings when you can’t pull those out,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We put together a lot of good basketball here. We didn’t put enough of it together tonight to win the game.”

James, who was scoreless in the fourth quarter Sunday in Game 3, had 15 of his 34 points in the final period.

The Cavs came out and turned again to Kevin Love, who hit the game’s first basket, a three. Cleveland scored the game’s first five points. 

Then the Celtics took over, scoring 11 straight points and to take all the energy out of QuickenLoans Arena. 

LeBron James continued his disengaged play of Sunday night, settling for threes and missing them. Love did find James with his trademark length-of-the-court pass and James delivered with a one-handed jam to cut Boston’s lead to 18-13. 

The only bit of troubling news in the first quarter for the Celtics were the two fouls apiece called on Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Crowder stayed in the game to guard LeBron. 

The Celtics led 29-19 after one quarter.  

(For a complete box score, click here.)

The Cavaliers showed a little spark with a transition-inspired rally. James started to get to the basket for layups. 

Momentum continued to roll in the Celtics’ favor in the second quarter, as they built their lead up to 49-33 on threes from Terry Rozier and Avery Bradley. At that precise moment, the Celtics had outscored the Cavs, 105-64, since trailing 77-56 midway through the third quarter of Game 3. 

But without question, the biggest storyline was the foul trouble of LeBron James. After getting called for a highly questionable third personal foul on a touch foul of Marcus Smart shooting a three with 8:55 left in the second quarter. But Ty Lue decided to keep him in the game. 

That move backfired when James bowled over Rozier in the lane for his fourth foul with 6:46 left in the second quarter and the Celtics up, 43-33. James, with four first-half fouls for the first time in his career, sat for the remainder of the half. Down 49-33, it was Irving to the rescue, who scored the next 10 points in a 10-2 Cleveland run. 

The Cavs had the lead down to six before the Celtics finished the half on a 6-2 spurt for a 57-47 advantage. Without Isaiah Thomas for a second straight game, ball movement for the Celtics was outstanding. In the first half, the Celtics had 17 assists on 21 field goals.

“I thought we played as well as maybe we have the entire playoffs during the first half,” Stevens said.

Starting the third quarter, James missed a layup, complained about not getting a foul called, allowed Kelly Olynyk to blow by him for a layup and missed an open three and committed his fourth turnover, leading to a Jae Crowder layup. 

Then he hit a jumper with nine minutes left in the third, his first jumper made all night. Following a Celtics turnover, Irving and James got on the break. Irving sacrificed his layup for a pass back to James for a dunk, sensing the desperate need to get his superstar engaged.

The Cavs drew to within three, 61-58, after Kelly Olynyk picked up his fourth foul with 8:30 left in the third. But Marcus Smart banked in a three to make it 64-58. A pair of Jonas Jerebko free throws made it a 66-58 game. James found a wide-open Smith for a three, cutting Boston’s lead to three, 69-66. An Irving layup cut the lead to one, 69-68. 

But then with a golden opportunity to take the lead, James blew a tomahawk dunk with 4:15 left and Olynyk responded with a dunk of his own and a free throw. But exactly a minute after blowing his dunk and moments after an Irving three, James rattled home two free throws for Cleveland’s first lead since 5-4 in the opening minutes. 

With the crowd on its feet and sensing a huge run, Irving drove to the basket for another layup that made it 77-72. But Irving fell awkwardly on his left ankle. He immediately grabbed the ankle, angrily retied the left shoe and stayed in the game. 

He didn’t exactly slow down. He scored 11 points after the injury, including three drives to the basket and a buzzer-beating three from 30 feet to put the Cavs up, 87-80, heading into the fourth. Irving scored 21 points in the quarter on 9-of-10 shooting. The Cavs outscored the Celtics, 40-23, in the third. 

A James layup put the Cavs up, 89-80, before Al Horford and Jae Crowder hit threes, trimming Cleveland’s lead to four, 90-86. 

With eight minutes left and the shot clock expiring, James hit a turnaround to put the Cavs up, 98-88. 

The Celtics made another run to cut the deficit to 103-97 on threes from Avery Bradley and Jonas Jerebko. But James snapped a string of nine missed threes with a triple followed by a bank shot to put Cleveland ahead 108-97 with three minutes left. Another James jumper extended the lead to 110-97. 

The Cavaliers went through an amazing stretch in the second half, hitting 27-of-32 shots from the field.