CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Just when the Cavs thought the worst was behind them and they were about to return to full strength following the return of Kevin Love, 2 more go down.
Love scored 10 points, had 9 rebounds while being limited to 20 minutes in his first game action since Feb. 11 as the Cavs won their 45th game of the season, beating the Utah Jazz 91-83 Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“It felt good out there and [I was] happy to be back especially getting one in in front of our home crowd before we go on the 4-game road trip,” Love said while sitting in front of his locker with both knees wrapped in ice and his feet resting in a tub of ice.
Love wasn’t originally projected to return for another 2 weeks until this week when Cavs general manager David Griffin upped the timetable to when the team headed west.
“I knew the whole time. I was messing with you guys,” Love joked. “It was either going to be this weekend or tonight. Once I saw how it was progressing, and if I didn’t have any hiccups along the way, that tonight just felt right.”
That was the good news. Now the bad.
Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert both had to depart in the second half due to injuries and they did not return.
Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue downplayed both player’s injuries after the game saying that they were “fine” and that the injuries were “no big deal.”
Irving, who scored 21 points on 8 of 19 shooting, felt tightness in his left knee, which he fractured during the 2015 NBA Finals, and sat out the fourth quarter just to be safe.
“Probably the last 48 hours it’s been kinda sore,” Irving said. “I tried to give it a go tonight and then playing the whole third and then sitting down it started getting kinda tight. So, I went to ‘Bron and I was like, ‘you got this?’ He said, ‘yea’ and so for precautionary reasons [I] just left the game.”
Irving planned to see his masseuse and get treatment before the Cavs leave for the west coast on Friday.
“We’ll just see in the next few days,” Irving said. “I’m hoping that I don’t have to miss any days, but if it really comes down to that and the bigger picture is way more important than a few days, then that’s what it’s going to be. But as of right now I’m fine.”
LeBron James was true to his word scoring 17 of his 33 points in that final quarter that saw the 2 teams exchange the lead 6 times and be tied twice before Cleveland pulled away late.
“I knew obviously with Kev on a minute restriction coming back, I knew Shump was out, I knew Kyrie wasn’t going to be able to finish the game, so I had to step up the scoring load a little bit and be a little more aggressive,” James said.
James added 10 rebounds and 6 assists while moving into 13th place all time in career field goals in the fourth quarter, passing Tim Duncan.
Shumpert had 9 points before he sprained his left shoulder in the third quarter forcing him from the game and to the Cavs locker room. Lue wasn’t sure specifically when Shumpert got hurt but said that Shumpert and Irving will travel with the team on their road trip.
Both essentially will be day-to-day.
Kyle Korver missed his fifth straight game with left foot soreness but the Cavs hope to get him back sometime during the trip while Derrick Williams was a late scratch because of a right quadriceps contusion.
It’s been that kind of season for the defending NBA champions, who despite the rash of injuries, still reside atop the Eastern Conference at 45-22.
“You control what you can control,” James said. “Obviously we wish we could be whole but it’s out of our hands right now.
“We’ll be alright.”
J.R. Smith’s 3-pointer late in the first quarter was the 881st of the season for the Cavs, shattering the previous franchise record for makes from downtown in a single season set last year, yet there are still 15 games left on the schedule.
Smith made 4 of his 8 3-point attempts to finish with 12 points, including a crucial hit from beyond the arc with 1:10 to play that put the Cavs up 89-83, but he refused to say that he is back in the groove after missing 11 weeks with a broken thumb.
“You want me to say that and then I’ll shoot 1 for 7,” Smith joked. “No, I’m not. I’m still at work with what I got. It was just one of those games where shots were falling. Still missed more than I made so I can’t say I’m back in a rhythm.”
Cleveland shot 9 of 33 from beyond the arc, marking the 63rd time in 67 games they’ve hit at least 9 threes in a game, in the win that saw them shoot 41.9 percent from the floor overall.
The Cavs open up a 4-game road trip Saturday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers.