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Irving, Love shine in postseason debuts

Cleveland's playoff newbies look like seasoned postseason veterans in the Cavaliers' 113-110 Game 1 victory vs. Boston

POSTED: Apr 20, 2015 8:35 AM ET

By Lang Whitaker

BY Lang Whitaker

NBA.com

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— As it turns out, maybe playoff experience is overrated?

In his first playoff game, back in 2006, LeBron James went for a triple-double in a win against the Washington Wizards. Today, in his own first postseason appearance, Kevin Love looked like the guy who warranted a first-round pick in a trade, fighting in the paint, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds. ("And drawing two charges," Cleveland's David Blatt helpfully pointed out.)

Kyrie Irving didn't have a triple- or double-double, but he was ruthless on Sunday, dancing around defenders and hitting a variety of buzzer-beating shots. Irving finished with 30 points in 40 minutes, including 5-9 on three pointers. (Irving's 30 were the second-most for a Cavalier in his postseason debut, second only to...LeBron James.)

Irving Beats The Buzzer

Kyrie Irving drains his 20th point of the game on a 3-pointer to beat the first-half buzzer, in his playoffs debut.

Love and Irving were crucial to Cleveland's efforts, as the Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics, 113-100, in Game 1 of their postseason series. "Even with Kev's shot not falling early," said James, "I felt like just the rhythm he was in, and his aggressiveness would pay off for us later in the second half, and he was very aggressive. When Kev shoots 8 free throws, and has a double-double, that lets me know he's being very aggressive."

Obviously, Irving has been on big stages before -- in 2014 he was the MVP of the All-Star Game and the FIBA Basketball World Cup. For whatever reason, something in Irving's constitution seems to lend itself to shining whenever all eyes are on him.

"I just think he's a guy that believes in his abilities and he loves to play basketball," said Blatt. "So when the stage is bright, he's happy to play and he's ambitious to perform and win."

Irving had a few moments in Game 1 that were rather remarkable. After a close first half, Irving hit a buzzer-beater to end the second quarter and give Cleveland a 62-54 lead at the half. In the fourth quarter, Irving drew a foul on Avery Bradley and sunk a shot as he fell to the floor. Add in copious crossovers and fancy footwork, and about the only thing Irving didn't do was juke someone, set the ball down on the court and walk away.

"He's one of the guys who takes tough shots and makes tough shots," said Boston's Isaiah Thomas. "There were times we were right in his face at the end of the shot clock and he buried a three. We have to somehow take that away from him and make him into a playmaker and not so much of a scorer. He's a hell of a player and we've got to slow him down to win this series."

It wasn't all Irving and Love, obviously. James messed around and nearly had a triple-double, finishing with 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists. As a team, the Cavs totaled 15 offensive rebounds, doubling Boston's seven. Tristan Thompson (another playoff newbie) and James Jones combined for 20 points off the bench. Love credited a pregame pep talk from Kendrick Perkins as giving the Cavs a boost.

"We had all those expectations this season," said Irving. "Who's gonna have the ball? Who's gonna do this, who's gonna do that? Now that it's the postseason, the only thing that matters is winning with my brothers. Whatever it takes to win I'm willing to do. And I'm going to continue to have that attitude."

One thing is certain: There are no more playoff debuts to be made. The Cavs came out in Game 1 and got great performances from nearly everyone. But it was Love and Irving who came up huge in the biggest games of their careers thus far.

"Everybody was worried about what Kevin and Kyrie were gonna do," said Blatt. "I guess that was the answer."

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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