CLEVELAND—Here’s more bad news for opponents of the Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving is back.
Playing his sixth game since returning from a broken left kneecap, Irving scored a season-high 25 points as Cleveland dumped the Toronto Raptors 122-100 last night.
The performance was a big moment for Irving, who faced nearly seven months of rehab after being injured in Game 1 of last season’s NBA Finals.
“It’s about getting better every game,” said Irving, who returned to the lineup Dec. 20.
“It was so fun to be out there.”
Irving was 10-of-16 from the field, with eight assists and six rebounds.
The three-time all-star scored 14 points in the second half when Cleveland pulled away enough that LeBron James sat out the fourth quarter.
“He’s much better than an all-star,” said James, who had 20 points and seven assists in 31 minutes.
“If he continues to play the way he’s been playing, but also progress in his game over the years, he can do something that’s very special,” James added.
“I know in my head what he can become and tonight he showed it.”
Irving exchanged hugs with James and Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt on the court after the game.
“Honestly, I just told him, ‘Man, it’s good to have you back and looking at full strength,’” Blatt said.
“It felt like he was himself tonight,” Blatt added. “It just looked like the old Kyrie.”
J.R. Smith scored 24 points on eight three-pointers and all five Cleveland starters finished in double figures.
Tristan Thompson added 14 points with 11 rebounds while Kevin Love scored 14 as Cleveland improved to 15-1 at home.
The Cavaliers used a 21-9 run late in the third quarter to finally open up some distance on the Raptors, who were led by Kyle Lowry’s 23 points.
Smith’s three-pointer midway through the third broke a 69-69 tie.
Two dunks and a three-pointer by James, Irving’s lay-up, and Matthew Dellavedova’s three-pointer keyed the spurt for Cleveland, which led 90-78 going into the fourth.
Smith’s eight “threes” were a season high, and the Cavaliers hit 17-of-33 for the game.
“That won the game for them right there,” Lowry said.
“They’re a real good team and they’re the Eastern Conference champs for a reason, so they’re the team to beat,” he added.
Dellavedova added 11 points.
Love, who didn’t participate in the morning shootaround because he wasn’t feeling well, played 33 minutes and grabbed nine rebounds.
The final margin was Cleveland’s biggest lead.
DeMar DeRozan scored 19 for Toronto, which played without forward DeMarre Carroll (sore right knee).
Carroll’s knee injury has forced him to play at less than 100 percent and kept him out last night.
“His right knee is swollen a little bit more than usual,” noted Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey.
“It’s a concern, but we’ve got to look at the long-term with him and get him right,” he stressed.
The Raptors next visit Brooklyn tomorrow night.