Last season, when healthy, that trio was ridiculed as the Big 2 ½, when Love struggled to find the game he was known for in Minnesota. In the Finals, it became the Big One after Irving joined Love on the injured list. To start this season, it was the Big Two while Irving still recovered from left knee surgery.
And this week, at least by All-Star standards, it became the Big One again; James became the Cavs' lone representative for next month's festivities when Irving and Love were left off the East reserves roster despite Cleveland's No. 1 spot in the conference.
In Friday's 114-106 win over the Detroit Pistons, however, they gave a glimpse of just how good they can be when they play in harmony. For the first time all season, and only the ninth time since they came to be, each of them scored at least 20 points. Love led the way (29 points on 9-for-19 shooting including 5-for-7 on 3-pointers with 6 rebounds and 3 assists), Irving was right behind him (28 points on 11-for-19, 4 rebounds and 2 assists) and James next (20 points on 7-for-16, 9 rebounds, 8 assists).
While it was their collective effort that helped the Cavs go up by as many as 20 points against a Pistons team that came in 15-7 at home (including an overtime win over Cleveland at the Palace in November), there was individual significance in each of their performances.
For Irving, not only was he exploding offensively after an 8-point outing Wednesday in a win against Phoenix, but he was following coach Tyronn Lue's instructions while doing so. "I just told Ky, I want him to be aggressive -- looking to get his game back, looking to get his legs back," Lue said before the game. "I want him to be aggressive scoring the ball. I don't care about his misses or mistakes."
Before the Phoenix Suns game on Thursday, Lue talked about how efficient the Cavs have become from deep because of their passing (a no-pass shot resulted in 27 percent accuracy, one pass was 32 percent, two passes were 40 percent and then three passes or more, a whopping 52 percent from 3). Irving bristled when asked about the stat after the Phoenix game, perhaps feeling the question was slighting his one-on-one ability. He said his teammates were talented enough to score, no matter how many passes preceded their attempt. It turns out Lue gave special dispensation to Irving. Yes, if there's an open man, find him. But right now, Lue isn't counting Irving's passes or assist totals. The fact that Irving dropped only two dimes in Detroit was OK because his coach's priority for him right now is simply to push the pace and find the rhythm that will allow him to become dominant again.
For Love, it was the classic statement game you see from a guy who feels as if he has been snubbed from the All-Star Game. While it's hard to argue that Andre Drummond isn't deserving of his reserve spot, Love had the better game; Drummond finished with 20 points and eight rebounds in the loss. It was also Love's best offensive performance since Irving's return from injury, and it felt like a long time coming.
"We'll continue to use Kevin the right way, continue to try to get him to his comfort spots and comfort zones," Lue said. "I think it'll be good."
And for James -- a night that could have been about him becoming the youngest player in league history with 26,000 points in the same game he moved into the top 20 on the assists list by passing Derek Harper -- his performance was overshadowed by an on-court confrontation with Tristan Thompson at the end of the first half.
Following David Blatt's firing, Lue and James have promised to establish a culture of accountability. While seeing James bark at Thompson for blowing a defensive assignment to close the second quarter might have seemed misplaced, considering the Cavs led by eight at the time, Thompson's reaction to it showed it was a wholly positive development.
"I don't care," Thompson said when asked what it's like to have that moment play out with 20,000 leering fans watching in the stands. "I don't give a damn. It's part our culture, part of growing and part of being a family. When a family member messes up, you have to tell him, let him know, and it's the same thing if we see Kyrie and LeBron making a mistake, then we will get on them, too. I don't care who is watching. It could be 10 million people watching. It's just accountability and getting us better."
For Lue, it was a sign that the things he emphasized in his first week on the job were beginning to take root.
"Police yourselves," Lue said. "That's the best thing you can do. ... That was great for us. Made our point and move on."
Cleveland moves on to a home matchup with the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, a franchise that knows a thing or two about maximizing the talents of a Big Three. It will be another chance for the Cavs to show how well they're learning on the fly.