Cavaliers 99, Lakers 90
CLEVELAND (AP)—LeBron James finally doesn’t have to do it all—all the time— for the Cavaliers.
James deferred to less-heralded teammate Sasha Pavlovic, who scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Cleveland clamped down on Kobe Bryant when it mattered most in a 99-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Pavlovic, a recent spark to Cleveland’s offense, finished with 21 points, Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 17 and Anderson Varejao 12—11 in the fourth—as the Cavaliers followed up a nice win over Miami on Friday with another solid effort.
James had 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but he bowed to Pavlovic and others down the stretch, and Cleveland’s supporting cast came through.
“I feel like a prophet,” said James, who has been praising Pavlovic for weeks. “People were looking at me crazy. I’ve always said that if Sasha gets the opportunity, he is going to be very good. We go against each other in practice and I know what type of player he is.
“He’s showing it.”
James was outscored 25-7 by Bryant after halftime, but the All-Star forward was rewarded for sharing the ball and still got to crown the Cavaliers’ win with a soaring dunk in the final seconds.
Bryant scored 36 points to lead the Lakers, who went 3-5 on an eight-game swing through the bitterly cold East. Bryant scored Los Angeles’ first 14 points in the final period, but with Larry Hughes guarding him and the Cavs running others at him whenever he touched the ball, he didn’t score in the closing 3:39.
“According to Kobe, no one else wanted to step up in that sequence,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “That was something we were looking for: somebody else to try and get going.”
The Lakers led by three points entering the fourth but were outscored 35-23 in the final 12 minutes as the Cavaliers, the NBA’s worst free-throw shooting team, got to the line and made 13-of-18 attempts.
“Our defense pretty much caved,” Bryant said. “We gave them a lot of easy opportunities at the basket, a lot of free throws. The fourth quarter is when you really want to hold a team down and force them to hit shots—not put them at the free-throw line.”
James spent the first 5:13 of the fourth sitting down, but when he checked in, the Cavs led 74-73.
Bryant’s two free throws put the Lakers up 79-76 but Varejao made two of his own and Pavlovic hit a 3-pointer off a feed from James before Bryant’s two free throws—his last points—tied it 81-81.
Varejao, a 61-percent free-throw shooter, made two with 3:20 remaining and James, who went 8-of-12 from the line, followed by making a pair for his first points of the second half to make it 85-81.
Carried to that point by Bryant, the Lakers closed to 86-85 on Smush Parker’s jumper before James drove the lane and passed to an uncovered Varejao, who calmly sunk a 17-footer to put the Cavs ahead by three.
“Those guys made plays,” Odom said of Cleveland’s reserves. “They understand their roles. They did a great job.”
On the Lakers’ next trip, the Cavaliers double teamed Bryant, who had the ball slapped out of his hands by Hughes. Pavlovic picked it up and raced to the other end and was fouled by Parker while making a layup.
Pavlovic, averaging 15 points in his last seven games, completed the three-point play to put the Cavs ahead 91-85.
“He made a great defensive play,” Bryant said of Hughes. “I was looking to read some of my cutters, try to get guys involved with the double (team). He made a great play.”
With the Cavs paying extra attention to Bryant, none of the other Lakers stepped up and when Varejao scored with 47 seconds left the Cavaliers were up 93-87 and on their way to a second straight impressive victory.
Pavlovic, who had a career-high six assists against the Heat, has gotten more playing time of late and he’s making the most of it.
“I just always tell Sasha, ‘You’re going to be very good for us, we’re going to need you’,” James said. “He has responded in the last month or so.”
Pavlovic has averaged 15 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in his last seven games.
During a long TV timeout, Bryant and his teammates laughed as they watched an American Idol-inspired skit on the jumbo scoreboard which ended with the All-Star’s jersey being tossed into a garbage can. … Bryant and James will meet again on national TV in Los Angeles on Thursday, the final game before the All-Star break. The superstars will also face off in next Saturday’s Skills Challenge in Las Vegas along with Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Phoenix’s Steve Nash. “Hopefully a lot of fans will tune in,” said Bryant. “I know if I was a kid I’d watch it.”