Cavaliers 104, Hornets 100
CLEVELAND (AP)—In four days, they’ve beaten the defending NBA champions, won at Madison Square Garden and rallied from 25 points down for a victory.
Suddenly, there seems to be nothing these Cleveland Cavaliers can’t do.
“This is sweet,” guard Jeff McInnis said. “I’ve never come back from so far down before.”
Carlos Boozer had 24 points, and McInnis added 14 and nine assists for the Cavs, who have won three straight—at home against San Antonio and New Orleans and at New York—since last Friday.
After starting the season 6-19, enduring turmoil and two major trades, Cleveland is within 1 1/2 games of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I’ve never been around a group that has jelled,” first-year coach Paul Silas said. “This was sweet. We want to keep this thing going.”
James also had a basket, steal and rebound in the final 1:19 as Cleveland completed one of the biggest comebacks in its 35-year history.
Neither the Cavs nor the Elias Sports Bureau could determine if it was the Cavs’ largest comeback, but there’s no disputing it was one of their most improbable.
“When we were behind by 25, no one in their right mind thought we would come back,” said Kapono, who went 5-for-5 on 3-pointers after not playing in Sunday’s win at New York.
Only once before had the Hornets blown a 25-point lead. They also did it on March 1, 1996, at Minnesota.
The Cavaliers were down 49-24 with 6:34 left in the second quarter, but trimmed it to 14 by halftime and four by the end of the third before finally taking the lead at 83-82 on McInnis’ short jumper with 7:42 to play.
But as has been the case with most of their games this season, this one went to the final horn as Baron Davis hit a 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds left to get the Hornets to 102-100.
However, Boozer made two free throws with 5.1 seconds left, and with the lead seemingly safe, Silas raised his right fist in the air to celebrate a win over the team that fired him after last season.
Davis led the Hornets with 34 points and Jamal Mashburn had 23, but after a strong start, the two stars struggled from the field. They opened a combined 13-for-13 from the floor but went 7-for-32 the rest of the way.
“They just kept on playing,” Mashburn said. “They kept attacking and we didn’t. That’s the bottom line.”
Kapono sparked the Cavs’ comeback, draining all his 3-pointers and adding five rebounds and three steals in 28 minutes. The second-round draft pick from UCLA had played just 19 minutes in his previous five games.
“I’m not the most talented guy in here,” he said looking around the Cavs’ locker room. “I’m probably No. 14 on the roster, but I can play a little.”
McInnis was also huge, scoring nine points in a crucial stretch of the final period when the Hornets and Cavs were trading baskets.
Before re-entering the game with 8:24 left and the Cavs within one, McInnis pounded his hand on the scorer’s table and yelled, “It’s crunch time!”
He promptly hit his 10-footer to give the Cavs their first lead.
“I knew it was time to be aggressive,” he said. “I wanted to go for it.”
Elias said it was the first time in Cavs history they won after trailing by 21 at the end of the first quarter. They had been 0-9 in such games.
Twice trailing by 25 in the second, the Cavs chipped away and got two 3-pointers from Kapono, two baskets by James and a 3 from McInnis to get to 59-45 at halftime.
Davis and Mashburn were perfect in the first quarter, scoring 14 points apiece with each going 6-for-6 from the field as the Hornets bolted to a 37-16 lead after one.
Davis made a pair of 3-pointers as New Orleans shot 79 percent (15-of-19) from the floor in the period.
The Cavaliers couldn’t do anything to stop the Hornets, who seemed to make everything they threw up. Mashburn capped the 12-0 run with a fadeaway17-footer he shot off one foot.
James signed a four-year, $5 million endorsement contract with Bubblicious bubble gum, raising his sponsorship deals to roughly $135 million. “Money is not an issue,” he said. “I’ve got enough money to last my lifetime, my kid’s lifetimes and their kid’s lifetimes. I’m just trying to experience new things.” … The NBA fined the Cavs $5,000 for a skit in a Feb. 19 game when Cleveland’s mascot poked fun at Celtics forward Ricky Davis. During a timeout, Moondog mopped the floor using a No. 31 Cavs’ jersey—Davis’ number before he was traded to Boston. … James is one of five finalists forthe 2003 Sullivan Award—given to the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete.