One game after scoring a career-high 43 points, James had a mere 20 but also added eight assists and a last-second blocked shot to help the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics 98-96 Friday night.
“This is my game,” he said after drawing a double-team and feeding Ilgauskas for the go-ahead jumper with 20 seconds left. “I’m not going to force a shot. If I have the ball at the end of the game, I can make a play, and I don’t have to shoot.”
Drew Gooden had 27 points and Ilgauskas had 26 with eight rebounds for the Cavaliers, who won for the eighth time in nine games. Paul Pierce had 25 and Gary Payton scored 14 with 10 assists for Boston, which has lost three in a row since its surprising victory over the NBA-leading Seattle SuperSonics.
Boston scored 16 straight points to take an 83-75 lead, but the Cavs tied it 94-all with 1:31 left and then took the lead when a heavily guarded James muscled in a layup with 50 seconds to play.
Payton tied it for Boston, then James fed Ilgauskas for a 16-footer from the left side.
“He was giving it up and making them pay, and that’s what’s most important,” Cleveland coach Paul Silas said. “And if he keeps doing that it’s going to be hard to double-team (him) because he’s going to make everybody else better. And that’s what super players are supposed to do.”
On the Celtics’ last chance, Pierce drove but had his pass knocked out of bounds. Pierce got the ball back but fired up an off-balance shot from the top of the key that was tipped by James.
“This is one of those games I felt like I let the team down,” Pierce said. “There are going to be other times, but I’ll lift the team up more than I’ll let it down.”
James’ basket with 3:41 left in the third quarter gave Cleveland a 75-67 lead, but Pierce answered with a 3 to start a 16-0 run for a 73-65 lead early in the fourth. Cleveland repeatedly pulled within one and finally tied it 94-94 on two free throws by Jeff McInnis with 1:31 left.
There was none of the animosity the teams displayed at their exhibition game in Columbus, Ohio, when Pierce and James were given technical fouls for jawing at each other. Pierce was later fined for spitting at the Cavaliers’ bench after telling the reserves to sit down.
Instead, Pierce and James went shot-for-shot. Pierce won the scoring contest, but James—second in the league with a 27.3 point scoring average coming in—won the game.
The Celtics cut a nine-point, first-quarter deficit to three in the second quarter and trailed 53-48 at halftime. Pierce shot 3-of-11 in the first half and Ricky Davis 2-of-7 as the Celtics shot below 40 percent as a team; Cleveland, led by Gooden’s 8-for-8, was shooting 59 percent.
It was Boston’s first sellout since the opener. … Gooden had 12 points in the first quarter. … The Celtics last lost to Cleveland in Boston on Nov. 7, 1999.