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Cavaliers' Big Three erase playoff doubts

CLEVELAND -- Despite their dominance stretching back for a solid three months to mid-January, there was some lingering doubt surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers before their 113-100 Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

Take Kyrie Irving, for starters. In the past 15 months, the 23-year-old phenom has shined on some of the brightest stages his sport has to offer, being named MVP of both the NBA All-Star Game (while making another All-Star appearance) and the FIBA World Cup.

Impressive credentials, of course, and coupled with those 55- and 57-point explosions this season, maybe it didn't make too much sense to question whether he'd be ready for the Cavs' playoff opener.

Then again, he'd never been in the postseason before, and coupled with a Q&A session he did with kids at his camp last summer, during which he said Boston's Avery Bradley defends him better than any other player in the league, it gave you the slightest bit of pause.

The same spirit of the unknown made you wonder if Kevin Love would be ready as well. After all, his back has been balky off-and-on all season, and he had those 13 single-digit scoring games, and, well, you just didn't truly know.

The same doubt extended to coach David Blatt to a certain extent; as he readily admitted, he'd never been part of a seven-game playoff format despite his championships overseas. And it hung over guys like Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, both playoff newbies as well.

"One thing that scares me a little bit is just us coming together for the first time, our experience," LeBron James admitted this week to ESPN.

Then, right before Game 1, Blatt made an admission of his own when he said he felt like his team "harmed" itself when it got "overhyped" for opening night against the New York Knicks and fell flat on its face. Blatt could have also mentioned the Cavs' calamity on Christmas Day, in a similarly anticipated match, when their gift was a butt-whooping by the Miami Heat with the entire league watching.

Throw in the fact that Boston won nine of its last 10 games heading into the playoffs -- and has the mix of young guys playing loose with house money after it appeared they'd be lottery-bound for a good portion of the season -- and again, there was enough circumstantial evidence to make you think, if only for a second, that maybe this wouldn't be such an easy series for Cleveland.

When Love started Sunday's game 2-for-11? It seemed like further proof. When the Celtics went ahead 37-29 a couple of minutes into the second quarter? The doubts were seemingly becoming substantiated.

And much like the way the Cavs turned around their 19-20 season in the blink of an eye back in January, they underwent the same transformation against Boston thanks to a few timely words from James.

"I just saw LeBron on the court telling everybody, 'Hey, calm down. It's going to be OK. Stay cool. Stay poised.' And from that point, exactly from that point, we kind of caught our stride," said Blatt, alluding to the fact that Cleveland turned that eight-point deficit into an eight-point lead by halftime. "I just think LeBron with his experience and with his knowledge of these situations was very much in control and was very mature about the way he approached the game, and he helped the other guys and they responded very, very well to that type of leadership."

The Cavs cast away the doubt from that point on, led by their sometimes improperly labeled Big Three, who all showed up in a big way. James had a team-high seven assists to go with 20 points and six boards. Irving scored a team-high 30 points -- becoming just the 11th player in league history to score 30 points in his playoff debut, according to Basketball-Reference.com (a group that includes James, of course) -- and started the game 5-for-5 from 3 with Bradley rendered ineffective for the most part. Love snagged a team-high 12 rebounds to go with 19 points, four assists and two charges drawn on the defensive end.

"Everybody was worried about how Kevin and Kyrie were going to do in their first playoff games, well … " Blatt said before rattling off their stat lines. "So, I guess that was the answer."

And James, Love and Irving -- sharing the postgame podium for their first joint news conference since coming together last summer -- silenced any questions, at least for now, that could still be out there after Game 1. Questions beyond readiness; questions about the true strength of their relationships.

"Obviously we've all accomplished a lot," Irving said when asked about the trio he's a part of. "As you prepare and get ready for the postseason, you want your best players to be at their best. We set the tone at both ends of the floor. We set it mentally and physically. We want to be there for everyone. We have to hold each other accountable. We got together, we are the Big Three. We have a lot of really great players on this team, but we set the tone."

Said James to the Cavs' in-arena emcee before walking off the court after his first playoff win in Cleveland in five years: "If the Big Three are great, as a team we're going to be greater and hard to beat."

No doubt about that.