Some call LeBron James, King James. Last night, it took all the king's men for the Cavaliers to defeat the Celtics,
98-96. James worked his magic with assists, not points, at the
FleetCenter, finding teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas for the winning
16-footer with 19.6 seconds left. Paul Pierce (25 points, 4 turnovers)
came up short on an 11-footer in the waning seconds. And a desperation
toss from the left baseline by Gary Payton was off the mark and after
the buzzer. But in truth, Boston lost this game long before any attempts
at late-game heroics because of turnovers down the stretch.
Struggling to make shots, Cleveland tied it at 94 on a pair of Jeff McInnis free throws. Once again, the Celtics
were asked to show some mental toughness down the stretch as they tried
to snap a two-game losing streak. But with 49.4 seconds left, James (20
points, 8 assists) scored on a driving layup to give the Cavaliers
their first lead since the third quarter. Payton (14 points, 10 assists)
returned the favor on the other end and the game stood tied, 96-96,
with 31.3 seconds remaining.
second unit did something during the third quarter that it hasn't been
able to do all season: build a lead. With Walter McCarty, Delonte West,
Ricky Davis, Tony Allen, and Al Jefferson on the floor, Boston surged
ahead, 81-75, entering the final quarter. The same group started the
fourth and did not disappoint when a Davis steal led to a fast-break
dunk by West to stretch the Boston lead.
2:11 left in the third, a pair of free throws from McCarty gave Boston
its first lead and sparked a 7-0 run to close the third. Pierce hit a
pair of foul shots before being replaced by Allen, then Davis found West
for a 13-footer. Next, Allen blocked a shot by Ira Newble, which wound
up putting West on the line for a free throw.
But a few minutes into the fourth, the second-unit magic wore off and coach Doc Rivers went back to his starters as the Celtics'
lead dwindled. Cleveland closed within a point on a couple of
occasions, but missed shots and turnovers kept the visitors from taking
the lead. Boston clung to a slim lead thanks to midrange jumpers from
Pierce, Mark Blount, and Davis, and a free throw from Payton. Still, it
remained a one-possession game, 94-91, in favor of Boston, with two
minutes to play. An Ilgauskas free throw made it a 2-point game with
1:50 to play. It would not stay that way for long.
James may be ruler of all he surveys in the NBA, but during the first
half teammates Drew Gooden and Ilgauskas dominated the action. The
Cavaliers took a 53-48 lead into halftime with Gooden and Ilgauskas
combining for 36 points. But they could not have done it without help
from James, who was credited with six assists in the first half and kept
the ball moving effectively for an offense that shot 59 percent.
4:35 left in the second, James found Ilgauskas for a 20-footer that
pushed the Cavaliers ahead, 42-33, equaling the visitors' largest lead.
But behind 6 straight points from Jiri Welsch, Boston cut its deficit to
42-39 less than two minutes later. Then James hit Gooden for a reverse
layup capping a mini-run that gave Cleveland a 49-41 lead. The Celtics never led during the first half, spending much of the second quarter trying keep the deficit manageable.
proved a difficult task for Boston, which shot 40 percent and struggled
to move the ball as effectively as Cleveland. The Cavaliers finished
the half with 14 assists, double the Celtics' total.
did maintain a high level of effort throughout the first half. They
simply looked overmatched by the Cavaliers, who are playing some of the
best basketball in the NBA these days. James entered the game coming off
a career-high 43 points, though his scoring abilities did not highlight
the first half. That would come later.
the end of the first, a 20-footer by Ilgauskas followed by an 18-footer
from Gooden gave the Cavaliers a 9-point lead. Pierce cut it to 27-20
with a 15-footer.