Cleveland’s top trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined for 81 points on Sunday as the Cavaliers battled to a 106-101 victory over determined Detroit in their NBA playoff opener.
The Pistons, back in the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, did all they could to steal an away win, draining 15 three-pointers as they shot 52 percent from long range.
James denied that the Pistons caught the top-seeded Cavaliers off-guard.
“We did it to ourselves,” James said. “We were a step slow on some of our coverages and they made us pay for it.
“In the second half we knew we had to play a little bit more close attention, a little bit more close to our details that our coaching staff told us to do.”
Detroit led at halftime and entering the fourth quarter. A three-pointer from Reggie Bullock with 11:03 left in the final period saw the Pistons match their largest lead of the contest at 83-76.
The Cavs called a timeout to get James back in the game and less than two minutes later it was tied at 83-83 and Cleveland were on their way to a win.
James finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Irving added 31 points and six assists and Love contributed 28 points and 13 rebounds for the top-seeded Cavs, who host game two on Wednesday.
Irving was playing in his first post-season game since injuring a knee in last year’s NBA Finals, while Love was knocked out of the first round last season with a shoulder injury.
James, meanwhile, played in his 179th career post-season contest – tied with Michael Jordan for 17th in history.
“For these two guys, they were just excited to get back to this moment,” James said of his teammates. “These guys have been working hard, Kyrie on his knee, Kevin on his shoulder just to get back to this moment.
“It was great to be out on the floor with them and for them to put together the performance that they did,” added James, whose Cavs are trying to get back to the NBA Finals after falling to Golden State in the championship series last season.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 21 points for the Pistons and Marcus Morris scored 20 – but just one in the second half.
Reggie Jackson, who had 17 points and seven assists but was handed a late technical foul when he charged toward an official to argue a non-call, said the Pistons would come back strong.
“We fear nobody and experience is going to be our best teacher,” he said. “We think we have a chance.”
DENG TURNS UP HEAT
It wasn’t close in Miami, where the Heat bolted to a 41-22 first-quarter lead and never trailed en route to a 123-91 rout of the Charlotte Hornets.
British NBA veteran Luol Deng scored 31 points in his first playoff appearance for the Heat, connecting on 11 of 13 attempts from the field and five of seven from three-point range.
Hassan Whiteside added 21 points and 11 rebounds in his playoff debut making nine of 11 shots and blocking three shots.
Dwyane Wade scored 16 points and Goran Dragic had 10 assists in his Miami playoff debut. Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson were Miami’s other double-figure scorers with 11 points each.
Deng scored 14 points in the first quarter and Whiteside added 10. It was Whiteside’s hook shot with 4:42 left in the period that gave Miami their first double-digit lead.
Unlike the Heat’s regular-season finale at Boston on Wednesday, when they squandered a 24-point halftime lead and lost by double digits, Miami never let up on the accelerator.
They opened the second half with a 7-0 scoring run, and the Hornets can only hope to bounce back in game two on Wednesday.