LeBron James might have thought he would get a bit of a break Thursday night when he heard Kevin Love was returning to the lineup. But James was forced to step up late after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost two starters to injuries, scoring 17 of the Cavs’ 24 points in the fourth quarter to lift them to a 91-83 win over the Jazz.
James was on the floor for 38 minutes and needed to play heavy minutes in the fourth quarter after both Kyrie Irving (left knee tightness) and Iman Shumpert (left shoulder sprain) suffered injuries and neither played in the fourth.
To make matters worse, Love, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, was out on a minutes restriction after missing the previous 13 games recovering from knee surgery.
After the game, James said Irving told him he wasn’t able to finish the game, leaving the Cavs superstar with one option: take over.
“Kyrie looked at me and said he probably won’t be able to finish the game,” James told reporters. “With Kev being on a minutes restriction coming back, I knew Shump was out, I had to step up the scoring load a little bit.”
LeBron did just that, finishing with a game-high 33 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while hitting 13 of 20 from the floor. And of course he had his usual array of highlights.
James’ minutes have been a concern for most of the season as the Cavs have juggled their starting lineup due to injuries. Love, J.R. Smith and Shumpert have missed extended time, putting extra pressure on the four-time MVP to shoulder the load. Thursday was the 47th time in 61 games that he’s played at least 35 minutes. However, coach Tyronn Lue said Irving and Shumpert both were fine after the game.
The Cavs have little breathing room as the No. 1 seed in the East, holding a 2½-game lead over the Celtics. With the win Thursday, the Cavs continued to dominate the other conference at home, having won 32 of their past 38 games against the West in Cleveland.