CLEVELAND • When Kyrie Irving finished off the Toronto Raptors with season highs of 25 points and eight assists on Monday, coach David Blatt embraced him and a number of team-mates congratulated him.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star point guard technically returned two weeks ago, but nights like this prove the real Irving is almost back.
He stepped into a three-pointer from 30 feet in the first half, then spun past two defenders and Euro-stepped his way to the basket early in the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers' 122-100 victory over the Raptors.
Irving talked for weeks about knocking the rust off. That process looks nearly complete.
"He's much better than an All-Star," forward LeBron James said. "If he continues to play the way he's been playing but also continues to progress with his game over the years, he can do something that's special around this league.
"I'm not going to put too much pressure on him right now, but I know what he can become in this league and tonight he showed it."
James had 20 points and seven assists while sitting out the fourth quarter and J.R. Smith made a season-high eight three-pointers, accounting for all of his 24 points, on a night when all five Cavs starters scored in double figures.
"One hundred points should be good enough to win in this league," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "But until we turn it on defensively, we're kidding ourselves."
Guard Kyle Lowry had 23 points and 10 assists, and guard DeMar DeRozan had 19 points for the Raptors, who twice rallied from big deficits before the Cavs (23-9) pulled away for good in the fourth.
The Raptors (21-15) went scoreless for more than four minutes in the fourth, allowing Cleveland to turn a close game into a rout.
A jumper from back-up centre Timofey Mozgov extended the Cavs' lead to 108-87 with 6min 13sec left, the first 20-point lead of the game.
Forward Kevin Love had 14 points and nine rebounds and centre Tristan Thompson had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavs, who have won four straight and improved to 15-1 at home.
Irving shot just 29 per cent in his first three games back from a fractured kneecap, but he has boosted it to 48 per cent in his past three. He scored at least 20 points in two of his past three games.
"It's just about getting better every single game. That's what I've tried to do," he said.