CLEVELAND -- During a break in the second quarter, Philadelphia coach Doug Collins pulled Jrue Holiday aside and ordered his guard to be more aggressive.
Holiday listened and got downright hostile.
He made five 3-pointers and scored 19 of his 24 points in the third quarter as the 76ers kept their hold on the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot with a 103-87 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Holiday dropped four of his 3s during a stunning 24-2 run when the Sixers blew open a tight game. Andre Iguodala added 19 points as Philadelphia snapped a three-game losing streak, won for just the third time in 10 games and increased its lead over Milwaukee to 2½ games.
The Sixers needed someone to get hot.
Holiday heated up just in time.
"Once he got it going, he was masterful," Collins said. "He got upset. He thought he got hit a couple of times on drives. I've ordered some 'ticked off' cream for the rest of the year."
The Sixers play their final four on the road, including a matchup next week against the Bucks, who lost 121-112 to Washington.
Cavaliers rookie Kyrie Irving scored 9 points in his first game back after missing nine straight with a sprained shoulder. Samardo Samuels and Lester Hudson scored 15 apiece for Cleveland, which has lost 18 of 22 and is running on fumes.
Iguodala added 13 rebounds and Elton Brand had 12 points for the Sixers, who came in just 11-21 since Feb. 13 when they are among the Eastern Conference's top teams.
It's been all downhill since. However, Holiday applied the brakes for one night.
Antawn Jamison's basket with 7:53 left in the third brought the Cavs, who lost by 39 on Tuesday night in Detroit and have been getting blown out regularly, even at 57-all.
Moments later, Cleveland trailed by 22, shot down by Holiday.
His 3-pointer made it 62-59 and the third-year guard made three more long-range shots as the Sixers went on their 24-2 run over a 5:21 stretch to open an 81-59 lead. Philadelphia scored 19 straight with ease during the shocking outburst before Samuels finally ended the Cavs' drought.
Then Holiday drilled another 3 for good measure, making it 84-64.
Goodnight, Cleveland. Drive safely.
"You kind of feel unstoppable," Holiday said his mindset during his torrid streak. "Every shot's falling. There was one 3 that kind of popped out and went five feet up in the air and it still fell in."
Holiday went 6 of 6 on 3-pointers and didn't play in the fourth quarter as Collins got some needed rest for his starters, playing their third game in three nights and faced with finishing the season on the road, a tough schedule for any team, never mind one battling for the playoffs.
"It was a great win, much needed," Collins said. "Hopefully we can get a little rest. That third game in three nights is not easy to do. All good stuff."
The Cavs ended a stretch of seven games in nine nights and look exhausted. They did get Irving back, but only for 19 minutes.
Cavs coach Byron Scott admitted having some serious apprehension about letting Irving play, but relented to the 20-year-old's wishes after the presumptive NBA Rookie of the Year was cleared by team doctors.
Scott, who will keep a limit on his young star's minutes, thought Irving "was a little rusty" but was pleased with his overall performance.
Irving didn't wear a protective sleeve on his shoulder, which he first hurt March 30. He gave the shoulder a good test in the second quarter, when he was sent by sprawling by Brand into the padded basket stanchion after missing a layup.
Irving spent a moment laying on his back before being helped to his feet, a sight that drew a smile from Scott.
"My heart kind of dropped a little," Scott said. "He got right back up, which is a great sign to show me that he was fine. He didn't grab his shoulder or anything. Matter of fact, he started laughing a little bit when Elton grabbed him and asked, 'Are you OK.'"
Irving didn't mind taking the fall.
"It was a welcome back kind of moment," he said. "It was good to get it out of the way early."
Irving was relieved to be back on the floor. He understands there's always a risk of getting hurt, but as long as the Cavs have cleared him, he's willing to take it to play.
"I'm going out there to try and win as many games as possible," he said. "It's about competing. I would rather be out there on one leg than on the bench."
The Sixers had a season-high 32 assists. ... It appears Cavs C Anderson Varejao's season is over. He hasn't played since breaking his right wrist on Feb. 10. Scott said the team hasn't made a decision on whether Varejao will return, but with just five games left, it's unlikely he'll get back on the court until next season. Varejao was having an All-Star-caliber season before getting hurt, averaging 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds. ... Philadelphia has won five straight over Cleveland. ... The Sixers play at Indiana on Saturday, New Jersey on Monday, against the Bucks next Wednesday before finishing the regular season the following night in Detroit.
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