CLEVELAND (The Sports Xchange) - Kevin Love departure in the final minute of the second quarter with a left shoulder injury marred the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 120-111 victory over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
Guard Kyrie Irving scored a season-high 35 points and LeBron James had 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Cavaliers, who enter the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak and focused on the health of their power forward.
Bryant’s arm seemed to catch Love’s shoulder when Love was backing him down on a shot in the post.
Love yelled in pain and headed for the bench with 45 seconds left in the second quarter, then walked immediately to the locker room with the left arm dangling.
It is the same shoulder Love had surgically repaired last spring after he dislocated it in a playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
Love needed six months to recover from his last shoulder surgery, returning late in the preseason, although one source with knowledge of this injury said the team was being overly cautious and it doesn’t appear to be as serious.
James and Irving have said at various points this season they wanted Love to be the focal point of the offense and coach Tyronn Lue has gone to great lengths since taking over making Love feel more comfortable in the Cavaliers’ system.
Love’s exit overshadowed Bryant’s final appearance in Cleveland. He had 17 points and six rebounds while shooting just 5 of 16.
The Lakers fell behind by 17 early in the first quarter before rallying, although they never took the lead. The Cavaliers pushed the lead to 22 in the third and still maintained a 19-point lead entering the fourth.
Bryant’s four-point play cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 104-95. The Lakers pulled within eight in the final minutes, but a 3-pointer from J.R. Smith with 3:19 left put the game away.
Lou Williams scored 28 points and guard Jordan Clarkson had 22 for the Lakers. Rookie guard D‘Angelo Russell scored 15 points off the bench.
Forward Tristan Thompson had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavaliers.
There is a mutual respect between Bryant and James, who shared a hug when Bryant checked out of the game in the final minute to a standing ovation from the visiting crowd.
Bryant reiterated Wednesday he doesn’t consider James a rival because the two stars weren’t really in the same generation, but Bryant seems to be more receptive than he was earlier in his career when he appeared chilly on the court toward James.
Bryant insists, however, the two have always had a better relationship than what was perceived.
”We’ve been close. We talk on the phone probably more than people know,“ Bryant said. ”We talk about the game, we talk about different strategies that center around the game.
“We talk about different things off the court. Business related, players association related. We speak, there is much more communication than people want to (believe).”
There will only be one meeting left between James and Bryant -- next month at Staples Center. The two legends have combined to appear in each of the last nine NBA Finals, yet somehow never met to play for one.
”Just the ebb and flows of each season,“ Bryant said. ”It didn’t matter to me.
“I just wanted to win the (darn) thing. I didn’t care who we played. For the fans, it probably stinks because it would have been a great matchup, but from a player’s perspective, it doesn’t matter who you play. Just want to win the championship.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney