Cavs 'Big Three' combines for 81 points fueling Game 1 win
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Kyrie Irving scored 31 points in his first playoff game since being injured in last year's NBA Finals and Kevin Love added 28, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 106-101 win over the young and confident Detroit Pistons in the opener of their first-round playoff series Sunday.
LeBron James added 22 points and 11 assists for the top-seeded Cavs, who are favored to win the Eastern Conference again but got all they could handle from the Pistons.
Love, knocked out of the playoffs with a shoulder injury in the first round a year ago, made two critical 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 21 and Marcus Morris 20 -- but just one after halftime -- for the Pistons, making their first playoff appearance since 2009. Andre Drummond had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Detroit made 15 3-pointers, but the Pistons' playoff inexperience showed in the final minutes.
Game 2 is Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, which was on edge for much of Game 1 as the Pistons, who beat Cleveland three times during the regular season, flirted with an upset.
For more than 40 minutes, the Pistons, who have just one starter with playoff experience, matched the Cavaliers shot for shot. Detroit's young squad wasn't intimidated and Reggie Jackson's 3-pointer tied it 88-88 with 6:29 left.
But that's when Love, who has had two uneven seasons since coming to Cleveland, buried consecutive 3s to put the Cavs ahead by four and finally allow a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 a chance to relax.
The Pistons hung around and were within 100-96 on a free throw by Morris, but James cut to the basket for a layup and Jackson missed a 3-pointer before Irving's two free throws gave Cleveland an eight-point lead.
It was a sweet playoff return for Irving, who fractured his kneecap against Golden State in the finals and needed surgery and months of grueling rehab before he could return to the floor.
The Pistons didn't show any signs of fear early on and led 58-53 at halftime thanks to 10 3-poiners.
Coach Stan Van Gundy did all he could to help his team, which improved by 12 wins over last season. Upset with a non-call against James, Van Gundy stormed down the sideline during a timeout to argue with the referees that James should have twice been whistled for offensive fouls.
But Van Gundy couldn't do anything to slow down the Cavs after halftime as Love, Irving and James -- Cleveland's Big 3 -- combined for 81 points.
Pistons: Van Gundy's brother Jeff, who is expected to meet with Minnesota about its coaching job, was a TV analyst for the game. ... Jackson appeared in 30 postseason games for Oklahoma City. He was a rookie on the Thunder's 2012 NBA Finals team but did not play in the championship series.
Cavaliers: James appeared in his 179th playoff game, tying Michael Jordan for 17th on the career list. ... Cleveland is the No. 1 seed for the third time in franchise history but has never advanced to the finals from that spot. . James is 34-12 in playoff games at the Q. . James and Mo Williams, who is out with a sore left knee, are the only current Cavs players who were on the 2009 team that swept the Pistons. ... Browns coach Hue Jackson was in attendance.
Game 2 is Wednesday at 8 p.m.