(The Sports Xchange) - The last time Kyrie Irving climbed onto a podium at Quicken Loans Arena, he needed help getting down because his crutches and bulky knee brace prevented an easy exit.
The last time Kevin Love addressed the media after a postseason game, his left shoulder was in a sling and surgery was in his future.
Love and Irving are back healthy now following a pair of grueling rehabs. Whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers could have won a championship last season if both stayed healthy will never be known, but they were crucial to the Cavs’ opening playoff victory Sunday.
Love, Irving and LeBron James lived up to the Big Three’s billing by combining for 81 points in the Cavs’ 106-101 victory against the Detroit Pistons in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series. Irving scored 31 points, Love had 28 and James had 22. All three made crucial plays in important moments after the Pistons seemed poised to pull a stunning upset to start the series.
“I thought the Big Three did a phenomenal job,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Kevin set the tone early posting up, getting into the paint and getting a couple of fouls. It all started from there.”
But it wasn’t easy. The Cavs survived a shooting onslaught from the Pistons, who made 15 3-pointers and shot 52 percent from beyond the arc.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 21 points for the Pistons, and Marcus Morris scored 20 -- but just one in the second half.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy lamented some of the mistakes he made. He wouldn’t go into detail, but he acknowledged he may have stuck with a struggling Tobias Harris for too long while ignoring Stanley Johnson, who made all three of his 3-point attempts but didn’t play much in the second half.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is things I could have done differently to give us a better chance to win the game,” Van Gundy said. “You’re in a playoff series, and I‘m not really looking to stay close, that’s not my objective here. We’re here to try to win games, and we didn’t get it done tonight, and I think I had a considerable amount to do with that.”
The Pistons led at halftime and entering the fourth quarter. A 3-pointer from Reggie Bullock with 11:03 left allowed the Pistons to match their largest advantage of the game at 83-76, forcing the Cavaliers to call a timeout to get James back in the game.
Love shifted to center, James entered at power forward and the Cavs took off. They needed just 1:40 to tie the game at 83. They slowly took control the rest of the way behind their stars.
“It’s not about the statistical categories,” James said. “It definitely starts with us. It starts with our mindset. It starts with how we approach the game, from a mental side, from a physical side, from a spiritual side. But as far as the stats, those things will take care of themselves.”
The Pistons made nine 3-pointers a game in the regular season, and the Cavs limited opponents to fewer than eight per game. However, Detroit made 10 in the first half Sunday and sent the Cavaliers defenders scrambling unsuccessfully to the perimeter.
It was reminiscent of 2009 when Stan Van Gundy spread the floor with shooters around Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic shot their way past the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. Except this time it is Andre Drummond in the middle, and the Pistons aren’t exactly a prolific 3-point shooting team.
Drummond had 13 points and 11 rebounds after he was held to two points and four rebounds in the first half. Reggie Jackson had 17 points and seven assists and was assessed a costly technical late in the game when he charged toward official Derrick Stafford to complain after a no-foul call.
“I wish I could get the call,” Jackson said. “I wish they could see me get slapped on the arm. It felt to me like it was blatantly obvious.”
Game 2 is Wednesday night at Cleveland.