LOS ANGELES, December 16- LeBron James scored 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Kevin Love added 20 points and eight rebounds as the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers ripped host Boston 89-77.
Russian center Timofey Mozgov added nine points and 10 rebounds while Iman Shumpert came off the bench to score 10 points before suffering a groin injury as the Cavaliers won their third game in a row and improved the best record in the Eastern Conference to 16-7.
Avery Bradley scored 17 points to top the Celtics, who led 46-40 at half-time but shot only 26 percent in the second half and managed only 31 points after half-time in a physical contest.
“It’s fun to have that type of competition,” James said.
“We had to take the fight to them and we were ready for it. We love physical games. We can play any type of game. We knew it was going to be physical and we answered the call.”
The Celtics, who slid to seventh in the East at 14-11, fell behind during a 12-0 Cavaliers run in the third quarter that included a spectacular reverse slam dunk by James and smothering defensive work.
“That’s one of our staples we stress every single day — defending at a high level and trying to move the ball offensively,” James said.
“In the first half, we allowed them to get to some of their spots. Wasn’t as aggressive, but we still played very well.
“But in the second half, we just locked down and then we started moving the ball. We just kind of kept them off base.”
With Kyrie Irving on the verge of returning from an injury that has kept him out since June’s NBA Finals, the Cavaliers could be on the brink of finding their top form and surging ahead of a close pack of rivals.
“We just want to continue to get better no matter who is in the lineup,” James said.
“We have to continue to push our game, to push our envelope and if we continue to do that we will be successful.”
Shumpert’s injury gave Cavs coach Dave Blatt some worries.
“A little bit concerned,” Blatt said. “I have no idea what the extent, is but given what our recent history is, I’m concerned.”
– Nuggets win –
At Minneapolis, Kenneth Faried had 19 points and 10 rebounds while reserve guard Randy Foye added 19 points off the bench as the Denver Nuggets defeated Minnesota 112-100.
Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton each had 14 points for the Nuggets, who shot 56.2 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from 3-point range.
Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting while Zach LaVine added 20 points and five assists off the bench and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points.
The Nuggets (11-14) have won five of their past six games after suffering an eight-game losing streak.
Denver guard Emmanuel Mudiay, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, did not play because of a right ankle sprain.
The 19-year-old, who played last season in China, could return Friday in Utah.
At Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins had 26 points and 12 rebounds to power the host Kings over Houston 107-97.
Israeli Omri Casspi added 19 points while Rudy Gay had 17 points and 13 rebounds for Sacramento, which improved to 10-15. James Harden had a game-high 33 points in a losing cause.