CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James wanted so badly to give back to Cleveland fans after he played poorly in his emotion-laced home opener.
They deserved something.
On Monday night, he delivered a belated gift.
James recorded a triple-double with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, Kyrie Irving scored 27 of his 32 in the second half and Cleveland’s “Big 3” dominated in a 118-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night.
Kevin Love made six 3-pointers and added 22 points for the Cavs, who were back at Quicken Loans Arena for the first time since Oct. 30, when Cleveland welcomed James home after four years in Miami. He failed to play up to the monumental event, going 5 of 15 and committing eight turnovers in a stunning loss to the New York Knicks.
James wouldn’t allow a repeat performance. After the Cavs returned from a four-game road trip, James went on his Twitter account and told Cleveland fans, “I owe y’all one.”
“It worked out. It’s good when you put something out there and it comes true,” he said. “I owed them one, and many more as well. Tonight we took care of business.”
James and Irving dominated in the second half, combining for 49 points — 30 in the third quarter when the Cavs overcame 9-point deficit. Love, too, was huge after halftime, making four 3-pointers.
“This is special,” said Irving, who added nine assists and had just one turnover in 40 minutes. “We played well as a group.”
Anthony Davis scored 27 with 14 rebounds for the Pelicans, who beat defending NBA champion San Antonio on Saturday night and gave the Cavaliers all they could handle. Ryan Anderson added 32 points — 23 in the first half for New Orleans.
“In order for you to become one of the best you have to play the best and learn from them,” Davis said. “I love playing against LeBron and the Cavs. They’re a tough team. They have three players who can score the ball at will. We broke down defensively. They scored 118 points. We can’t allow teams to do that.”
Irving’s 3-pointer gave the Cavs a 101-95 lead, but the Pelicans didn’t go away and were within three when Love drained one of his six 3s. Irving scored on a conventional three-point play and then hit another long-range shot to give Cleveland a 110-98 lead with 2:26 left.
James was taken out to a rousing ovation, but coach David Blatt had to re-insert the superstar in the closing seconds after Anderson’s 3 brought the Pelicans to 117-111 with 13.9 seconds left.
Following the game, Blatt answered several questions before reminding everyone what James did.
“Hey, that guy No. 23 was pretty good tonight,” Blatt said. “It’s easy to overlook that guy. He grabbed the game. He understood the moment.”
Cleveland was just back from a four-game road trip, which had its share of drama as James challenged his young teammates following a loss in Portland.
But in their first game back, the Cavs’ trio of James, Irving and Love showed why they’ve been pegged as title favorites. After a slower start than many imagined, the Cavs — and James — are beginning to figure things out.
“I’m not there yet,” James said. “I have a couple more kinks I need to work out, but I feel I’m in the right place right now and I’ve made some progress.”
Blatt was pleased with his team’s offensive movement, but Cleveland’s defense had some disastrous stretches. Blatt said the Cavs had “moments of lethargy” and described the Cavs’ defensive issues as “disturbing and “worrisome.”
The Pelicans didn’t arrive in Cleveland until nearly 3 a.m. The team was scheduled to leave at 4 p.m. on Sunday, but a mechanical problem with their plane caused a long delay and a new pilot and crew had to be flown in from Minnesota, delaying the flight by six hours.
“It was actually a good thing for us,” coach Monty Williams said. “We had Internet on the plane. We watched games and did our work. It could have been a lot worse.”
Cavs rookie G Joe Harris made his first career 3-pointer and gave Blatt 20 quality minutes.
“He plays with a lot of heart and people in Cleveland love that,” Blatt said.
Pelicans: Davis came leads the league in rebounds (13.0) and blocks (4.2) and is averaging 24.9 points. “He’s one of the elite players,” said James, who played with Davis on the U.S. Olympic team in 2012. James said Davis has a unique game. “It doesn’t compare to anybody,” he said.
Cavaliers: G Dion Waiters sat out with a bruised lower back, an injury he sustained Friday when he was fouled on a layup by Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur, who was suspended one game. It’s not known how long Waiters will be sidelined. … Cleveland plays eight of its next 10 games at home.
Pelicans: Host Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
Cavaliers: At Boston on Friday.