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Kyrie Irving in midseason form in Cleveland Cavaliers win over Toronto Raptors

By The Sports Xchange   |   Jan. 5, 2016 at 1:47 AM

CLEVELAND -- When it was over, when Kyrie Irving finished off the Toronto Raptors with season highs of 25 points and eight assists Monday night, coach David Blatt embraced him and a number of teammates congratulated him.

The All-Star point guard technically returned two weeks ago, but nights like this prove the real Irving is almost back.

Irving stepped into a 3-pointer from 30 feet in the first half, then spun past two defenders Euro-stepped his way to the basket early in the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers' 122-100 victory against the Raptors.

Irving talked for weeks about knocking the rust off. That process looks nearly complete.

"He's much better than an All-Star," forward LeBron James said. "If he continues to play the way he's been playing but also continues to progress with his game over the years, he can do something that's very special around this league. I'm not going to put too much pressure on him right now, but I know what he can become in this league and tonight he showed it."

James had 20 points and seven assists while sitting out the fourth quarter and J.R. Smith made a season-high eight 3-pointers, accounting for all of his 24 points, on a night when all five Cavs starters scored in double figures.

"One-hundred points should be good enough to win in this league," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "But until we turn it on defensively, we're kidding ourselves."

Guard Kyle Lowry had 23 points and 10 assists, and guard DeMar DeRozan had 19 points for the Raptors, who twice rallied from big deficits before the Cavs (23-9) pulled away for good in the fourth.

The Raptors (21-15) went scoreless for more than four minutes in the fourth, allowing Cleveland to turn a seven-point game into a blowout.

A jumper from backup center Timofey Mozgov extended the Cavs' lead to 108-87 with 6:13 left, the first 20-point lead of the game.

The Raptors rallied from 13 down in the first half to take a brief lead in the second quarter. They tied the game at 69 in the third quarter on a 3-pointer from James Johnson, who was starting at forward in place of DeMarre Carroll (knee). However, James' 3-pointer to close the third pushed the lead back to 90-78, and the Cavs weren't threatened again.

Forward Kevin Love had 14 points and nine rebounds after missing the morning shootaround because he was ill and center Tristan Thompson had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavs, who have won four straight and improved to 15-1 at home.

The Raptors beat the Cavs at Toronto in late November when Cleveland was missing half of its rotation. Things changed dramatically Monday in large part to Irving, who continues to work his way back from offseason knee surgery.

"Once they made that run, it was over," Raptors forward Patrick Patterson said. "Kyrie did amazing things."

Irving shot just 29 percent in his first three games back from a fractured kneecap, but he has shot 48 percent in his past three. He scored at least 20 points in two of his past three games, and his eight assists Monday were also a season high.

Irving first flashed his old form last week when he made a 3-pointer in the final minute to beat the Phoenix Suns on the road.

Then his surgically-repaired left knee took a blow Saturday night when he dove after a loose ball with the Cavs leading the Orlando Magic by 20. Irving called that moment a breakthrough and played like it Monday.

He scored nine points and passed for three assists during the fourth quarter while James was resting.

"It's just about getting better every single game. That's what I've tried to do," Irving said. "There's going to be some nights where I didn't have my legs or my jump shot and I started questioning it. But for me now it's just continuing, continuing, continuing to progress and get better. When I'm able to play like that and get other guys shots and be aggressive and guys are hitting shots, gosh, the game is so fun."

Irving ranked second in All-Star voting among guards when the first batch of ballots was released Christmas morning, a bit of a surprise since he only returned to the court a few days prior. But James believes Irving should be an All-Star regardless of the season's sample size.

"There's not many guys, if any, at the point guard level that's better than him," James said. "So I don't think it should even be a question."

NOTES: Toronto F DeMarre Carroll did not play in Monday's game because of swelling in his knee. Carroll told reporters assistant coach and director of sport science Alex McKechnie wanted to hold him out. He could be out longer than just one game. ... Former top overall pick F Anthony Bennett has rejoined the Raptors after a D-League stint, but he has yet to appear in a game since returning. "He's a talented young man who is just trying to get experience, but it's been tough to get him time because of the minutes that are available," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. ... Cavs F LeBron James said he hasn't heard the new Kanye West single "Facts," which disparages James and Nike. "I heard about it but I haven't listened to it," James said of the track. "Obviously, I'm going to side with Nike no matter who it is."

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