James scored 36 points in 34 dominant minutes against Boozer’s new team, leading the Cavaliers to their third straight win, an easy 92-73 rout of the cold-shooting Utah Jazz on Tuesday night.
James went 11-of-15 from the field, 12-of-16 on free throws, added nine rebounds and had a perfectly balanced performance. Of his 36 points, 12 came in the paint, 12 came from the line and the other 12 came on outside jumpers.
“Oh, God,” Cavaliers coach Paul Silas said. “He’s the best 20-year-old I’ve ever seen. Overall, he was just magnificent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him make as many outside shots.”
Drew Gooden, acquired by Cleveland in a trade last summer to replace Boozer, added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Utah, which scored just 62 points in a loss at Detroit on Sunday, scored nine in the second quarter and went 27-of-81 from the field. Andrei Kirilenko had 14 points—12 in the first quarter—and Matt Harpring added just six on 2-of-11 shooting as the Jazz lost their sixth straight.
The club also had to endure the wrath of Cleveland fans upset that Boozer, sidelined with a sprained foot, didn’t make the trip. He’s now considered a traitor here for signing a $68 million free-agent deal with the Jazz eight months ago.
“We’ve moved on,” James said. “We’re still friends with him. All that other stuff is between Carlos and them.”
The Cavs insisted they had an understanding with Boozer that he would stay with them. He says leaving was simply a sound business decision.
Whatever happened, Cleveland fans haven’t forgiven him.
“They were football fans tonight,” said Harpring, who played one season with the Cavaliers. “Cleveland doesn’t forget. It was hostile. You could hear it, feel it that people aren’t very happy with him.”
Although disappointed that Boozer wasn’t present, Cavaliers fans didn’t hide their hatred for the forward. The club didn’t miss a chance to stoke its fans, either, flashing a photo of a smiling Boozer in his Jazz uniform on the giant scoreboard before the game and when Utah shot free throws.
Those moments were greeted with loud “boos” not the loving “Boooze” that Boozer heard during his two seasons as a fan favorite in Gund Arena.
Some fans brought homemade signs to send their own personal message to Boozer. Among the most creative: “Carlos Whozer?” “Is Last Place Worth $68 Million?” and “Et Tu, Boozer?”, a reference to the Ides of March.
Boozer’s about-face is not as historical, but not enough time has passed to heal Cleveland’s pain.
“Hopefully he heard the message through the TV,” Cavs guard Jeff McInnis said.
Cavaliers fans are taking solace in seeing Boozer struggle. The Jazz are just 20-43, while Cleveland is 34-27 and on its way to qualifying for the NBA playoffs for the first time since 1998.
James didn’t score his first points until dropping two free throws with 6:37 left in the first quarter. But he was just warming up because with 8:47 left in the second quarter, he had 22.
The Jazz, meanwhile, were having trouble getting off a good shot against the Cavaliers’ suffocating defense. James scored 15 points and Cleveland outscored Utah 24-9 in the second quarter to open a 50-32 halftime lead.
“LeBron showed why he’s one of the best players in the NBA,” Kirilenko said. “We stopped executing and just got caught watching LeBron.”
The Cavaliers pushed their lead to 21 in the opening minutes of the third and went up 70-45 when James caught a lob pass from Jeff McInnis for a vicious, one-handed dunk with 1:21 left in the period.
James was pulled with more than 10 minutes left, getting a chance to rest for Thursday’s game in Milwaukee.
“I’m glad he (Silas) didn’t play LeBron in the last quarter,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “They might have beaten us by 80.”
James has scored more than 30 points 16 times this season. … Not missing a marketing opportunity, the Cavaliers have already adopted Usher’s “Double C” gesture as part of their strategy to increase fan interest. During Sunday’s game, Usher crossed his arms in an X” and formed “Cs” with his hands, a move quickly copied by many in the arena. … Sloan expects Boozer to miss a few more weeks. … Sloan is one win from tying Red Auerbach (938) for sixth place on the career wins list. … Silas scored two tickets to see Creighton, his alma mater, play in Thursday’s NCAA first-round at Cleveland State. … The Cavs swept the season series from Utah for the first time since 1981-82.