Cavaliers 82, Spurs 78

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CLEVELAND (AP)—For three quarters, defenses dominated. In the final one, chaos ruled.

LeBron James scored 19 points, Larry Hughes added 18—13 in the fourth— and the Cleveland Cavaliers smothered and frustrated San Antonio from end to end during a rugged 82-78 win over the Spurs on Tuesday night.

Hughes hit three 3-pointers in the fourth and Damon Jones scored eight points in the final 1:35 as the Cavs, who have struggled on the road, improved to 14-3 at home and beat the Spurs for the second time this season.

They did so by harassing San Antonio all 94 feet, holding the NBA’s second-most accurate shooting team to just 38 percent from the field, a season-low 28 field goals and only 10 points in the third quarter.

After scoring just 44 points in the first three periods, the Cavaliers scored 38 in the final 12 minutes.

“Somehow, someway, we stayed with it,” said Cleveland coach Mike Brown, a defensive guru who learned about stops and schemes as an assistant under San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. “We all showed grit. We won the game the right way.”

Jones scored all 11 of his points in the fourth, and Anderson Varejao added seven rebounds, including four on the offensive end when he outhustled and outmuscled San Antonio’s big men under the basket.

Tony Parker led the Spurs with 26 points—14 in the fourth—and Tim Duncan had 18 points and 15 rebounds.

San Antonio played the final six minutes without Popovich, who was assessed two technical fouls and ejected following a wild sequence that began with Duncan complaining about contact. Assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo ran the club down the stretch.

“I felt there was an inconsistent whistle,” said Duncan, who finished 6-of-15. “They got more points at a time which calls and shots were starting to go their way.”

Despite shooting just 36 percent from the floor, the Cavaliers won their third straight over the Spurs, the first time they’ve done that since 1988.

“It’s big for us,” Hughes said. “I’ve never been on a team that beat those guys twice. It’s definitely good to beat a Western Conference power a couple times.”

Maybe it was the return of the old ball or maybe it was just good old-fashioned defense, but neither team could get its offense untracked as the Spurs entered the fourth holding a 50-44 lead.

The Cavaliers finally started to find their range and caught the Spurs at 52-all when Hughes drained a 3-pointer while being fouled by Manu Ginobli with 9:45 remaining. Cleveland pushed its lead to 64-59 on two free throws by Varejao.

On San Antonio’s next possession, Duncan had his shot down low blocked by Donyell Marshall, and as the teams left the floor for a timeout, the Spurs’ center pleaded his case for a foul to referee Kevin Fehr, who didn’t want to hear it.

That’s when an enraged Popovich got involved. With his assistants running after him, Popovich bolted onto the floor, sidestepping the Cavs’ mascot, Moondog, near midcourt as he sprinted in the direction of Fehr, who immediately tossed him and gave another technical to Carlesimo.

“I wanted to make it easy for him because that can be embarrassing for an official if he’s not sure if you want to go or not,” Popovich said. “I thought he did a great job.”

Jones made two of three free throws and the incident seemed to fire up the Cavs, who went up 73-67 on Jones’ jumper with 1:35 to go. James then missed the second of two free throws, but Varejao’s aggressiveness caused Duncan to tip the ball out of bounds.

Jones then made the Spurs pay by hitting a 3-pointer to make it 76-67.

Parker kept San Antonio close by making four driving layups in the final 45 seconds, but the Cavs hung on despite making just 6-of-10 free throws.

Notes

James doesn’t rate his dunks so he wouldn’t put a number on his soaring slam over Duncan when the teams played on Nov. 3. However, he’d love a copy of the poster if there was one. “I’d put it in my son’s room,” he said. … Marshall strained his neck in the fourth quarter. … The Cavs play nine of their next 10 on the road. … Popovich believes the hubbub over the return of the old ball will quickly fade. “It’s just like the dress-code complaints— they’ll go away,” he said. … Parker’s fiancee, actress Eva Longoria, attended the game. … The Cavs are 21-6 the past two seasons when Hughes scores at least 15. … Duncan has 18 double-doubles this season.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 San Antonio
T. Parker T. Parker
11-18,  26 Pts
3 Rebs, 3 Assists
 Cleveland
L. Hughes L. Hughes
6-12,  18 Pts
5 Rebs, 5 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
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Tuesday, Jan 2