DENVER (AP)—LeBron James grabbed the rebound but not the moment.
James pulled down his own missed free throw—which he purposely misfired with .6 seconds left—and drew another foul with Cleveland trailing Denver by two points.
After swishing his first foul shot, he missed his second and Alan Henderson’s tip-in bounced out at the buzzer, leaving the Nuggets to celebrate a 90-89 victory over the Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
“It just didn’t go down,” a crestfallen James said. “I shot it just like I shoot any other free throw, I just missed it. We have to move on. Everything that happened here tonight, I blame myself. When we win, I get the credit, when we lose I take the blame for it, it’s just another loss.
“I’m the leader of this team and I failed to make plays down the stretch. I’m the leader and I’m supposed to make plays down the stretch, and we lost. So put it on me.”
James finished with 24 points but the Cavs lost their fifth straight, including the first four on their Western trip.
Anthony was held to his lowest output in a full game since Nov. 23, but he sure was proud of his defense.
“The whole game my focus was to stop LeBron from getting 30 points out there,” Anthony said. ” It was a tough task, but overall I feel like I did a pretty decent job while I was in the game on him. The most important thing is that we came away with a victory.”
Anthony did have one very huge basket, as usual.
He zipped past Ira Newble for a dunk that gave Denver an 89-87 lead with 21 seconds left. Eduardo Najera stole the ball at the other end and had a chance to seal it when he was fouled by Eric Snow with 4.6 seconds left, but he missed his second shot, leaving Cleveland down 90-87 with a chance to send the game into overtime with a 3-pointer.
Andre Miller fouled James before he could set up for a three, and James made his first shot, then purposefully misfired his second and grabbed his own rebound while Martin got whistled for the foul.
“It was a perfect miss,” James said. “That sounds crazy, but I missed it perfectly, and I followed it and got fouled, and we were in a position to go to OT, but I lost the game for us. I’ve never practiced that but I know how to hit the back of the rim and make it pop out.”
Nuggets coach George Karl questioned how James could have gotten his own miss within the rules.
“My gut says he’s not allowed to break the plane until the ball hits the rim,” Karl said. “He’s pretty Superman-like if he could get where he got without him breaking the plane.”
James swished the first shot to make it 90-89, then missed his second.
Henderson reached in for the tip and for a second felt like he had seized the moment.
“I got a hand on it and I really thought it was going to go in the basket,” Henderson said. “I thought it was good.”
Henderson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas each added 16 points for Cleveland. Ilgauskas played despite a sore left knee but Cavs forward Drew Gooden sat out his second straight game with a strained right thigh.
James picked up a quick foul early on and was heading to the bench with his second at the 3:33 mark of the first quarter when official Joe Crawford corrected the call to a foul on Donyell Marshall instead.
James spun around and stayed in the game, no doubt pleasing ESPN, which was broadcasting the head-to-head matchup between James and Anthony, the first and third selections in the 2003 NBA draft, respectively, who have been compared to each other since their high school days.
The coaches had differing opinions on the marquee matchup, with Karl saying he resented the notion that this was a matchup of rising stars and not teams and Cleveland’s Mike Brown saying all the hype was good for the game.
Martin concurred with his coach: “It’s not the LeBron and Carmelo show, it’s the Nuggets and Cavaliers.”
Indeed, although James came within an assist of a triple-double, neither he nor Anthony had an All-Star performance on this night.
“No we didn’t, but I won the game, so that’s the only thing I can keep saying,” Anthony said. “Regardless of how I played, how he played, I won the game. I think we both gave a good effort out there. I take my hat off to both of us.”
5-5 Boykins rejected a shot by 5-10 Mike Wilks in the first half. … Nuggets C Marcus Camby said he’ll have pins removed from his broken right pinkie next week but doesn’t know when he’ll return to the lineup. … Henderson had season highs in both points and rebounds (12).