Cavaliers 89, Spurs 87
CLEVELAND (AP)—LeBron James ripped off his headband and fired it into the stands as red-and-gold confetti rained down from high above in Gund Arena.
For one night, the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans got a taste of what the NBA postseason is like.
Now, they just have to get there.
The Cavaliers rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter and then survived a frantic final minute to snap San Antonio’s six-game winning streak and drop the defending NBA champions to 5-1 on their seven-game road trip.
“It felt like a playoff game down the stretch,” said Cavs guard Jeff McInnis, who hit a crucial 3-pointer and two jumpers to fuel Cleveland’s rally. “This was a big win.”
Duncan scored 21 points but the reigning two-time league MVP had an awful shooting night, going just 9-for-28 from the field.
“I got every shot I wanted, wide open,” Duncan said. “I just couldn’t make a shot.”
Ilgauskas added 16 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland, which won for just the second time in seven games. McInnis finished with 15 points and eight assists for the playoff-dreaming Cavs, who nearly threw it away in the closing seconds.
Ilgauskas wrestled a rebound away from Duncan with one hand and dropped in a 5-footer in the lane to put Cleveland ahead 88-87 with 37 seconds to play.
However, the Cavs blew the inbounds pass as Ginobili ran down Eric Williams’ ill-advised lob to James near halfcourt and the Spurs called their final timeout with 1.9 seconds remaining.
Harassed by James, Ginobili couldn’t get off a 3-pointer before the final horn, and Cleveland’s rookie star celebrated by tossing his headband into the sellout crowd.
“Every time we come out I expect our crowd to be crazy. I love it,” said James, who has now scored more than 30 points nine times this season. “It’s going to get better, too, as we keep winning.”
Ginobili scored 21 points and Tony Parker had 15 for the Spurs, who despite shooting just 39 percent (35-of-91) from the floor still had their chances.
“We just made mistakes and sometimes that just happens,” Duncan said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened in those situations, teammates misreading each other and passes kind of going all over the place.”
James’ three-point play with 3:55 left gave the Cavs an 80-79 lead, but Duncan finally knocked down one of his patented shots off the glass to put the Spurs ahead.
McInnis and Ginobili then traded baskets down the stretch to set up the dramatic finish.
Duncan came in ranked fifth in the league in scoring (23.1 points per game), but missed his first eight field-goal tries and didn’t score until he hit two free throws with 6:29 remaining in the first half.
He went just 2-of-11 and the Spurs shot only 30 percent (14-of-46) in the opening half but trailed just 39-35 at the break.
James carried the Cavaliers, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds in a sloppy opening 12 minutes, which ended with Cleveland up 14-13.
James had 18 points at the half, and finished 14-of-23 from the field.
“He plays with a demeanor and a sense of the game that is beyond hisyears,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
The sellout of 20,562 was the Cavs’ seventh this season, the club’s most at Gund Arena since 1995-96. Cleveland is averaging 17,527 fans per game— a 66 percent increase from a year ago. … James is looking forward to playing in Madison Square Garden for the first time on Sunday when the Cavs face the Knicks. “I’m real excited,” said James, whose NBA career unofficially began at the Garden on draft night in June. “Every player understands the history and all the great players who have played there.” … Spurs F Kevin Willis, 41, played in his 32nd pro game on Dec. 29, 1984—the night before James wasborn. … San Antonio concludes its road trip Sunday at Minnesota.