Cavaliers 97, Hornets 89
CLEVELAND (AP)—One big, backbreaking shot wasn’t going to bail out the Cavaliers.
So LeBron James made another.
James dropped two crucial 3-pointers in the last minute to finally put New Orleans away and Cleveland did its late scoring from beyond the arc in a 97-89 win over the Hornets on Tuesday night.
James, who finished with 35 points, knocked down a 25-footer from the top of the key with 49.9 seconds left, and then nailed another 3 from nearly the same spot with 24.2 seconds remaining to save the offensively inconsistent Cavaliers, who made four 3-pointers in the final 3:53.
“If they go in, it’s a great shot,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “LeBron swung at it and hit a home run.”
The Hornets’ defensive strategy down the stretch was to force James to take the toughest shots possible. They were able to do that, but what they didn’t bank on was James making them anyway.
“We got what we wanted,” Hornets forward David West said. “He took a 3 with a hand in his face. He just knocked it down. We know he’s going to take the shot. You’ve got to live with him hitting a 27-footer or whatever it was he hit.”
Cleveland improved to 14-8 against Western Conference teams—the top mark among Eastern squads.
James scored 22 points after halftime and added eight assists, his last going to rookie Daniel Gibson, whose 3-pointer with 1:42 left made it 91-85 and enabled the Cavs to hang on despite blowing a 15-point lead in the second half.
Larry Hughes added 11 points on 5-for-16 shooting, continuing a troubling shooting slump for the slashing guard. However, Hughes made a 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining, just seconds after the Hornets had tied it 83-all.
David West had 25 points, Desmond Mason 16 and Tyson Chandler 14 with 10 rebounds for the Hornets, who went 8-4 in February. Chris Paul, who scored 30 when New Orleans beat Cleveland in December, was held to seven points and backcourt mate Devin Brown didn’t score in 19 minutes.
“They were awful—3-for-8, seven points between the two of them,” said a disgusted New Orleans coach Byron Scott. “That’s not going to get it done.”
The Hornets have lost six straight in Cleveland.
James was held to 15 points in Cleveland’s 95-89 loss to the Hornets on Dec. 11 in Oklahoma city. But Cleveland’s All-Star forward was determined not to have a repeat performance for himself or the Cavs.
“I’ve been playing great basketball since the All-Star break individually,” said James, averaging 30.5 points in his last six games. “I feel the best I’ve felt all year.”
With his team trailing 72-57 in the third quarter, New Orleans guard Bobby Jackson hollered, “We need to get some stops” at his teammates, who began chipping away at Cleveland’s double-digit lead.
The Hornets finally caught the Cavs at 83-83 as West’s 16-foot jumper with 4:14 remaining capped a 13-2 burst.
With Cleveland fans beginning to boo, Hughes dropped a 3-pointer and James scored on a layup. James then missed two straight jumpers before drawing a double team and heaving a skip pass across court to Gibson, who calmly knocked down his 3.
“I saw Boobie (Gibson) the whole way,” James said.
Gibson was happy to get it.
“When LeBron gets you the ball like that, all you can do is knock it down for him,” Gibson said.
James scored 12 points in the third quarter, including 9 in the final 4:12, to give the Cavaliers a 77-65 lead entering the fourth.
“It’s easy to come back and lose,” said Scott, disappointed with his team’s effort in the first half. “I don’t take no pride in us coming back and playing hard. We should have started the game that way.”
Chandler had his streak of getting at least 12 rebounds stopped at 15 games. … Hughes is just 31-of-95 (33 percent) from the field in his last five games. … James and Paul were teammates on the U.S. squad that won a bronze medal at last summer’s world championships in Japan. James previously committed to playing three years for USA Basketball, however he has not yet decided if he’ll take part in the FIBA Americas tournament scheduled for Las Vegas this summer. “I’m looking forward to playing on the team, but I’m not 100 percent (going),” said James, who added the injury to good friend and fellow captain Dwyane Wade could affect his decision. “It makes it less appealing. It’s something I’m going to have to think about.” … Cavs F Sasha Pavlovic, who missed the two previous games with the flu, played 18 minutes but rolled his right ankle in the fourth.