From Comcast SportsNetCLEVELAND (AP) -- There had to be a low point. The Los Angeles Lakers can only hope they've reached it.This chaotic season has gotten worse.Kyrie Irving scored 28 points in his return after missing 11 games with a broken finger, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 100-94 win over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, who look nothing like a team projected to win an NBA title -- or anything else."This is one of the most challenging stretches of my 17 years, and the most baffling, too," a puzzled Bryant said after the Lakers lost for the eighth time in 11 games. "We have the talent and personnel to do it, but we're not, and it's baffling. It's extremely frustrating."It doesn't make any sense. We're still finding ways to lose games."Irving added 11 assists in 39 minutes and showed off his dizzying array of moves as the Cavs, who came in with just four wins, ended a five-game losing streak.Bryant scored 42 points and Dwight Howard had 19 points and 20 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to stop the Lakers, who were still missing Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, from opening a four-game road trip with a with a loss that could sting for a while."We have to stop the bleeding -- somehow," said Howard, who forced a trade this summer from Orlando to join the Lakers and maybe win some championships. "We can't let this kill our spirits too much. This is tough on all of us right now."We want to win. We're sick of losing. We all understand that situations like this don't last forever."C.J. Miles scored 28 in his first start this season, Anderson Varejao had 20 and Alonzo Gee 17 for the Cavs.Los Angeles fell behind by 16 points in the third quarter, and despite Bryant's valiant attempt to rescue them -- he scored 16 in the fourth quarter -- the Lakers dropped to 1-10 in games the superstar scores 30 or more points."We played very uninspired basketball, offensively and defensively," said coach Mike D'Antoni, brought in to repair an underachieving squad after Mike Brown was fired five games into the season. "We play at a very slow pace and we struggle. Maybe it shifts over to defense. Maybe we're slow. Maybe we can't do it. . It's my job to fix it -- and that's what I'll do."As the final seconds ticked off, Bryant stood at halfcourt, his right hand resting on his hip, a look of disgust on his face. When the horn sounded, he handed the ball to an official and shared a brief hug with Irving and a long one with Cavs coach Byron Scott, who whispered something in his ear.The Lakers have nowhere to go but up.Bryant refused to single out any teammates, and he chose his words carefully when pressed on his team's many problems."I'm very upset," Bryant said. "When things get hard, you should get more determined, not shake your heads. It just seems when it rains it pours. It's like this cloud is following us around at all times. I'm one of the fastest guys on the team -- and I'm like 50. What does that tell you?"Before the game, D'Antoni bemoaned his team's defense and said the Lakers seemed to be missing a "spirit" to win.Those aren't their only deficiencies.Howard scored inside to get the Lakers within 86-82, but Irving answered with a 3-pointer. Metta World Peace hit a 3 to bring Los Angeles within 89-85, but on Cleveland's next possession, the Lakers lost track of Cavs center Anderson Varejao, who scored an uncontested layup as all five Los Angeles players watched.Bryant hit a 3-pointer to trim Cleveland's lead to 95-92 with 28 seconds left, but he missed another 3-point attempt on the Lakers' next trip and there was nothing he or anyone else in purple and gold could do from there.Howard is confident the Lakers will be able to turn their season around.He just doesn't know when."We've got to stay focused and stay strong," he said. "We can't let this break who we are as a team. We talk about it every day. People are going to say whatever they want about our team right now. We're not playing the greatest basketball. But there will come a day when we'll have the gun. Right now, we're rabbits. Once we get the gun, it's not going to be fun for everybody else."The Cavs went 2-9 without Irving, their sensational 20-year-old. But with him on the floor, Cleveland is a far different team and on this night better than the Lakers.Cleveland was ahead by 12 when Irving tried to take Bryant on by himself.Dribbling the ball between his legs at the top of the key, Cleveland's star backed Bryant down in the lane as the crowd roared at a 1-on-1 matchup Irving proposed during the summer for charity. Irving tried a pump fake that didn't work and Bryant easily blocked his shot as if to say, "Not yet, kid.""It reminded me when Allen Iverson was going against Michael Jordan," Irving said. "The whole crowd sat up. I got my shot blocked, but it was still a memorable moment for me, seeing the crowd reaction. I was surprised by it."Scott wasn't shocked that Irving would play so well."He's likes being put in the position of having to deliver," Scott said. "He's just a special young man. He loves the competition."NOTES:Bryant didn't know if Irving was "confident or crazy" when Irving challenged him to a 1-on-1 game during U.S. Olympic team practices. Irving didn't back down when Bryant unleashed some heavy trash talk on the 20-year-old. "I'm the best trash talker alive," Bryant said. "He tried to keep up. Hopefully, you'll see a little more of that (trash talk) from that generation, guys competing against each other. It was like that when I came into the league with Charles (Barkley) and Michael (Jordan) and (John) Stockton and (Clyde) Drexler and all those guys. That's how it was." ... Cavs G Daniel Gibson hyperextended his right elbow in the first half and didn't return. He expects to play Wednesday at Indiana.
CLEVELAND – For about 30 or so seconds following Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland, Al Horford was not Al Horford.
He’s a passionate player, but seldom is it on display in as outwardly a fashion as it was following their Game 3 victory.
In an interview with CSN’s Abby Chin after the game, Horford tried to put into words what the victory meant.
But the aggressive high-fives to teammates passing him by, the intense way he looked into the camera … that spoke volumes about what this game meant to the veteran big man.
“It’s big, it’s big!” Horford said in between high-fives with Jonas Jerebko and other Celtics who came past him.
“A lot of people doubting us out there!” Horford said, staring intently into the camera as if he was saying, ‘yeah, I’m talking about you!’”
Less than 24 hours after the game, Horford’s emotions had cooled down considerably.
“It was an emotional game,” he told CSN following a short practice at the Q Arena on Monday. “Just, having to hear … since the blowout, everybody counting us out. Everybody really believing that it was over.”
The Celtics came into Game 3 having lost both Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 57 points which includes the worst playoff loss (Game 2, 130-86) in franchise history.
So with that as the backdrop, knowing full well that no one outside of their locker room gave them an ice cube in hell’s chance at winning Game 3, the victory brought about a level of satisfaction that Celtics players had seldom experienced before if at all.
“The emotions at that time were high for our group,” Horford admitted. “And it shows what we’ve been talking about all year, a resilient group that has a lot of fight in them. We were hit with some adversity with Isaiah being down but our group responded.”
Thomas re-aggravated a right hip injury in Game 2, and was later ruled out for the rest of the playoffs.
After falling behind 77-56 in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 26-10 run to come within 87-82 going into the fourth quarter. During the run, Marcus Smart had 11 points which turned out to be equal to LeBron James’ scoring output … for the entire game.
This is Horford's 10th NBA season, all of which have included a trip to the postseason.
That, combined with having won a pair of national championships when he played at the University of Florida, serves as a reminder that the 30-year-old has been on the winning ledger of big games before.
But even he acknowledged Sunday’s Game 3 win was … different.
“I have had plenty of moments like this,” Horford said. “But this was definitely emotional. This was very emotional, exciting, on the road, no one really giving us any chance. To be able to come through like that, it just felt great. I’ve been part of emotional wins, but this one was a special one.”
That was evident in Horford’s energy-charged, post-game comments.
“Heart! Heart! This team got heart!” he yelled. “We got beat bad (in Game 2), but it’s all about how you rebound!”
And we get that message, loud and clear!
CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.
Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.
“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah. He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”
He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.
“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”
Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.
And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.
Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.
“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”
Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.
“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”