The Cavaliers are one win away from a third consecutive meeting with the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

CLEVELAND – You never know when one Kyrie Irving basket is going to lead to another. And another. And another.

But when that scoring spree happens, it’s a mesmerizing display of shotmaking, ball-handling and footwork.

Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ score-first point guard, picked the perfect time to unleash his scoring prowess.

Irving had a playoff career-high 42 points on 15-for-22 shooting, lifting the Cavaliers to a 112-99 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday and giving the Cavs a 3-1 series lead.

He had 33 of those points during a 17-minute, 30-second stretch in the second and third quarters.

“You guys have heard it, almost like a runner’s high where you get so juiced up when you see a few shots going in,” Irving said. “And then you feel the emotion take over, and then shots just start to fall in. Then moves that you’ve practiced just become second nature, and that’s the incredible zone to be in, which I was tonight.”

The Cavs needed this type of performance from Irving, because LeBron James picked up his fourth foul with 6:46 left in the second quarter while Boston was in control of the game. The Celtics led 49-33 with 5:30 left in the quarter, James had just 10 points, and going back to Boston with the series tied 2-2 seemed realistic.

But the Cavs outscored the Celtics 54-31 in those next 17 minutes and 30 seconds, with Irving making 13-of-16 field goals, including 4-of-6 three-pointers.

“Same thing I’ve been saying since I got here – I’ve been saying he’s a special kid. He’s a special talent,” said James, who ended up with 34 points. “As the stakes get higher and higher, his game gets higher and higher. But it was nothing surprising for me. But he rose to the occasion, and he put the team on his back, and we definitely needed that effort from him.”

Irving had 12 points in the second quarter and 21 in the third — 10 of which came after he twisted his ankle on a layup with 1:49 left.

“I’ve twisted my ankle so many times that plays like that, you have two choices,” Irving explained. “Either you can sit there and wallow in the sorrow of you twisting your ankle or capture the moment, and my adrenaline is still going at this point. So I’m pretty sure when I get home my body will probably hate me, but it’s the magnitude of the moment and what’s at stake, and I wasn’t coming out for any margin.”

The third was a beautiful quarter for Irving, who set a Cavs playoff record with nine made field goals. He also scored 19 of Cleveland’s final 21 points in the third, making eight consecutive shots, including two threes.

“He was born for these moments,” James said.

Most of Irving’s buckets came at the rim on a variety of clever layups with either hand. That’s no accident. Irving spent significant time as a kid performing the Mikan Drill, a layup routine using both hands on both sides of the basket. He learned angles and developed a touch at the rim that is one of the finest in the NBA.

It makes him one of the most gifted scorers in the league, but on a team with James and Kevin Love, he doesn’t need to score 30 a game, even though he could. Don’t underestimate his ability to create for others, either.

Irving had some trouble making shots earlier in the playoffs – 4-for-17 in Game 3 against Indiana, 6-for-19 in Game 2 against Toronto, 7-for-21 in Game 3 against Toronto and 4-for-11 in Game 1 against Boston. In the past three games, he’s shooting 68.8% from the field (33-for-48) and 57.9% on three-pointers (11-for-19).

“He’s probably one of — or – the best one-on-one player in the league,” Cavs coach Ty Lue said. “When you give him room and give him space, he can get to anywhere he wants to get on the floor, and we know that.”

The Cavs were once Irving’s team, but they weren’t any good. When James returned, it became his team, and Irving had to find his role.

“It hasn’t been anything short of difficult, trying to figure out when will it be my time,” Irving said. “The honest answer from me is that I cannot give any energy to anything that people say would be best for the team or even sometimes what I think would be best. My job is to be in the moment, especially with an unbelievable player like him. …

“You just have to be really confident in who you are as a person and stay true, and then make decisions from there and be able to apply basketball at a very high level, and you can’t cheat the game, and I don’t.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt

PHOTOS: Best of the conference finals


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