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Kyrie Irving, LeBron James propel Cleveland Cavaliers past Brooklyn Nets


By Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange  
Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Brooklyn Nets Caris LeVert leap for a jump ball in the first quarter at Barclays Center in New York City on January 6, 2017. The Cavaliers defeated the Nets 116-108. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
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Brooklyn Nets Caris LeVert defends Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James who drives with the basketball in the first quarter at Barclays Center in New York City on January 6, 2017. The Cavaliers defeated the Nets 116-108. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
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Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love and LeBron James defend Brooklyn Nets Brook Lopez in the second quarter at Barclays Center in New York City on January 6, 2017. The Cavaliers defeated the Nets 116-108. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
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NEW YORK -- For the first three quarters, the feeling for Kyrie Irving was rust.
As the Cleveland Cavaliers let the Brooklyn Nets back into a game they once led by 24, the feeling was agitation.
So, after shaking off the cobwebs from a week of inactivity, Irving decided to do something about it.
Irving scored the first 12 Cleveland points of the fourth quarter and 32 overall and helped the Cavaliers open a six-game road trip with a 116-108 victory over the Nets on Friday.
"I got to be ready for anything," Irving said. "I was really starting to get (ticked) off. The momentum was shifting. We had a few opportunities at the rim. We got a few in and outs. We weren't executing plays. As the point guard, I take full responsibility for that. So, going into that fourth, it started with me."
Irving appeared in his first game since getting 32 points against the Boston Celtics on Dec. 29. He sat the next three games with a tight right hamstring but felt well enough to participate in four-on-four pickup games with teammates in practice and felt good enough in the morning shootaround.
Still it was a matter of getting his legs under him and that aspect of Irving's performance developed slowly. He was 4-of-14 in the first half and 5 of 17 through the first 36 minutes as the Cavaliers held an 86-68 lead.
Irving then missed his first shot of the fourth quarter and the Nets were within 86-80 on a 3-pointer by rookie Caris LeVert with 9:55 remaining. After Brooklyn scored the first 12 points of the quarter, Irving responded with a personal run, doing it while LeBron James rested.
Irving started with two free throws and followed with a 22-footer off an inbounds play. Then came two 3-pointers and a reverse layup and the lead was was 98-82 with 7:36 remaining.
"He loves big moments," James said. "Games get close, you know he's going to step up to the plate and it's always good to see."
James scored 29 of his 36 points in the first three quarters and returned with 6:26 left. He did not provide a personal run like Irving but the Cavs made enough plays down the stretch to secure their 14th win in 17 games and never led the lead slip below seven the rest of the way.
"They made that run, he came in and made big shot after big shot and got to the rim even after the timeout," said Cleveland forward Kevin Love, who added 17 points after sitting out Wednesday with food poisoning from eating bad fish on the team flight from Charlotte on Saturday. "He was huge for us."
Irving finished with his fifth game of at least 10 points in the fourth quarter but also was glad to get the rest since the hamstring was injured a lot worse than he thought.
While the Nets made it competitive by shooting 68 percent in the fourth, it was not enough to undo the events of the previous quarters. The Nets missed their final 10 shots before halftime and faced a 50-39 deficit and then missed six of seven shots midway through the third when Cleveland took a 79-55 lead.
"We showed great fight obviously," Brooklyn center Brook Lopez said. "We can't put ourselves in that positon, that's it."
Bojan Bogdanovic led the Nets with 23 points, two weeks after going scoreless in Cleveland. LeVert added a career-high 19 points while Lopez contributed 17 as the Nets lost for the 22nd time their last 26 games since Nov. 12.
"We tried to compete the whole game," LeVert said. "We knew we kind of dug ourselves into a hole in the second quarter, beginning of the third. We were just fighting with our backs against the wall. We tried to climb out of it."
NOTES: Cleveland did not finalize the trade for G-F Kyle Korver, but reports indicate that it will be official sometime Saturday. The Cavaliers announced they obtained their own 2018 first-round pick from Portland for an unprotected 2017 first-round pick. The 2018 pick was sent to Portland last season at the trade deadline in the Anderson Varajao deal, but the Cavs needed to reacquire since league rules prevent teams from dealing first-round picks in consecutive years. The Cavs are reportedly sending their 2019 first-round pick to Atlanta. ... Kenny Atkinson was an assistant with Atlanta for the first three seasons of Korver's tenure there and said: "Great move. I'm very familiar with Kyle. I think we all make a mistake if we just think Kyle's a shooter. He's a better all-around player than people think." ... Nets F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tested his right hip Friday and returned after sitting out Thursday. ... G R.J. Hunter, who recently was waived by the Chicago Bulls, was obtained the Long Island Nets, Brooklyn's affiliate in the D-league.


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