CLEVELAND – LeBron James isn’t all alone.
One year after he carried the Cavaliers as far as he could in the postseason, James once again has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love by his side.
Cleveland’s Big 3 is playoff healthy again.
Irving scored 31 points in his first playoff game since being injured last year in the NBA Finals and Love, who was knocked out in the first round by an injury a year ago, added 28 to lead the Cavaliers to a 106-101 victory over the young and confident Detroit Pistons in the opener of their first-round playoff series Sunday.
James added 22 points and 11 assists for the top-seeded Cavs. They are favored to win the Eastern Conference again but got all they could handle from the fearless Pistons.
Cleveland’s championship chances were dealt a major blow when Love’s shoulder was dislocated in just his fourth playoff game last year at Boston. The Cavs advanced to the finals without him only to have Irving break his kneecap in Game 1 against Golden State, an injury that left James to fight the Warriors on his own.
As he sat between his teammates — who combined with him for 81 points, 24 rebounds and 18 assists — following the game on Sunday, James looked relieved.
“For these two guys, they were just excited to get back to this moment,” he said. “These guys have been working hard, Kyrie on his knee, Kevin on his shoulder just to get back to this moment. It was great to be out on the floor with them and for them to put together the performance that they did.”
Love made two critical 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and the Cavs overcame a seven-point deficit by outscoring the Pistons 30-18 over the final 10:52.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 21 points and Marcus Morris had 20 — but just one after halftime — and Reggie Jackson added 17 for the Pistons, making their first playoff appearance since 2009. Andre Drummond had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Pistons, who made 15 3-pointers but missed a couple open ones down the stretch when their playoff inexperience showed.
Despite the loss, Jackson and his teammates didn’t lose any confidence.
“We don’t care who you put in front of us,” said Jackson, slapped with a technical with 3:24 left. “We fear nobody and experience is going to be our best teacher. We’re going to learn on the fly. We think we have a chance.”
Spurs 106, Grizzlies 74
In San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard had 20 points and the Spurs beat Memphis in Game 1 of their Western Conference series, handing the Grizzlies their worst postseason loss.
LaMarcus Aldridge added 17 points, and Tony Parker had 15 points and six assists for San Antonio. The Spurs sat their starters in the fourth quarter to rest them for Game 2 on Tuesday.
Heat 123, Hornets 91
In Miami, Luol Deng scored 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting, Hassan Whiteside added 21 points and 11 rebounds in his postseason debut, and the Heat routed Charlotte in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series.
Clippers 115, Trail Blazers 95
In Los Angeles, Chris Paul had 28 points and 11 assists as one of three Clippers with a double-double, leading the Clippers over Portland in the opener of their first-round playoff series.