CLEVELAND (Ohio) • 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 National Basketball Association (NBA) post-season game, his left shoulder was in a sling and surgery was in his future.
Love and Irving are back healthy now, and they were crucial to the Cleveland Cavaliers' victory over the Detroit Pistons in Game One of their Eastern Conference first-round series on Sunday.
Love, Irving and LeBron James combined for 81 points in the 106-101 win. 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.
"For these two guys, they were just excited to get back to this moment," James said of his team-mates as the Cavs try to get back to the NBA Finals after falling to Golden State in the championship series last season.
"It was great to be out on the floor with them and for them to put together the performance that they did."
But it was not easy. The Cavs survived a shooting onslaught from the Pistons, who made 15 three-pointers and shot 52 per cent from beyond the arc.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 21 points for the Pistons, and Marcus Morris scored 20.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy lamented some of the mistakes he made. He would not go into detail, but acknowledged he may have stuck with a struggling Tobias Harris for too long while ignoring Stanley Johnson, who made all three of his treble attempts but did not 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 play-off series, we're here to try to win games, but we didn't get it done tonight, and I think I had a considerable amount to do with that."
The Pistons led at half-time and entering the fourth quarter. A three-pointer from Reggie Bullock with 11mins 3secs 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 centre, James entered at power forward and the Cavs took off. They needed just 1:40 to tie the game at 83.
The Pistons made nine three-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 on Sunday and sent the Cavaliers defenders scrambling unsuccessfully to the perimeter.
Reggie Jackson, who had 17 points and seven assists but was handed a late technical foul when he charged toward an official to argue a non-call, said the Pistons would come back strong.
"We fear nobody and experience is going to be our best teacher," he said. "We think we have a chance."
Game Two is tomorrow (Thursday morning, Singapore time) at Cleveland.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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