CLEVELAND (AP)—LeBron James barely got to play at the Summer Olympics. On Wednesday night, he showed Larry Brown that may have been a big mistake.
Perhaps trying to prove Brown was wrong to bench him in Greece, James scored a career-high 43 points with six rebounds and five assists to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 92-76 win over the Detroit Pistons.
“He didn’t say anything to us,” Cavs guard Jeff McInnis said. “But I think he wanted to stick it to him. I think in the back of his mind that’s what he wanted to do.”
McInnis added 16 points as the Cavaliers easily handled the defending NBA champions and won for the seventh time in eight games.
The Pistons were shorthanded, playing without center Ben Wallace, who served the third game of his six-game suspension for brawling with the Indiana Pacers. But even with Wallace, Detroit may not have been able to stop James.
This was his night.
“That’s as good as I’ve seen,” Cavaliers coach Paul Silas said. “All I know he was great, not good, he was great. We just don’t have enough superlatives to give this guy.”
The NBA’s reigning rookie of the year scored 21 points in the first half and 12 in the third quarter when he assisted on Cleveland’s two other field goals. In the fourth, after Detroit pulled within 10, James made consecutive 3-pointers, punctuating the second with a wag of his tongue as the Cavaliers went up by 16.
James was taken out with 2:03 left to a rousing ovation and the Cavaliers up 87-71. At that point, the rest of the Cavaliers had scored 44 points to his 43.
“Fantastic,” said Cavs forward Robert Traylor. “That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. I don’t know if he had something to prove, but he came to play. He’s one of those guys who sets his mind to it and takes his game to another level.”
Brown, who recently had hip surgery, wasn’t expected to be at the game. But he surprised the Pistons by arriving about 1 1/2 hours before the opening tip after getting permission to travel from doctors.
In Athens, Brown was more comfortable playing veterans to run his system so he sat James, who had never spent so much time on the bench and didn’t enjoy being a cheerleader. James averaged just 5.4 points in 11.4 minutes in eight games as the U.S. team settled for a bronze medal.
“I just go out and play my game, that’s over,” James said. “I don’t need motivation from that to play.”
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy,” James said before the game. “I wish I had a better opportunity to showcase my talents. That’s all it came down to. There ain’t no hard feelings.”
Brown doesn’t have any, either. In fact, he thinks the time on the bench may have helped James.
“I’d say he’s a better player,” Brown said. “I was proud of him. He took one bad shot. It’s as good a performance as I’ve seen.”
James gave Brown a thank you card before the game for sending a baby gift following the birth of his son. Not much later, James sent less polite message to Detroit’s coach by scoring 14 points in the first quarter.
He did it by showing his full arsenal of moves. James had a power dunk underneath, a soaring slam down the lane and tip-in where he appeared to illegally touch the rim to pull himself in front.
For good measure, he dropped a 15-foot jumper and spun through two Pistons on a double-team before flipping in a finger roll. During one stretch bridging the first and second quarter, James scored 15 of Cleveland’s 17 points.
“He hit some hard shots,” said Tayshaun Prince, who was outscored 43-4 in his matchup with James. “He’s the hardest guy in the league to guard. His speed, quickness and athletic ability are unmatched.”
The Pistons scored the first eight points of the second half, trimming Cleveland’s lead to nine before James scored six in a row to make it 60-47. James then picked up three assists, hit a jumper and made two free throws to put the Cavaliers ahead 71-59 entering the fourth.
James’ 43 are the most in the league this season, surpassing Kobe Bryant’s 41. … Pistons F Antonio McDyess had a season-high 14 rebounds. … James, who will turn 20 on Dec. 30, is the youngest player in league history to reach 500 assists and rebounds, doing it quicker than Magic Johnson, who was 20 years, 213 days when he hit both plateaus. … Cavaliers rookie G Luke Jackson, activated before the game, made a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left for his first points this season.