CLEVELAND (AP)—An embarrassing, unforgivable loss was looming for the Cavaliers when LeBron James turned it on.
And this time, his teammates did, too.
James scored 24 points—only two in the fourth quarter—and Daniel Gibson hit a dagger-like 3-pointer with 12 seconds left as the Cavaliers avoided humiliation by beating the short-handed Sacramento Kings 97-93 on Friday night.
James, who scored 32 points in the second half when Cleveland beat Atlanta on Wednesday, deferred to his supporting cast in the last 12 minutes. He picked up four of his 10 assists when the Cavs opened the final period with an 18-2 run.
Cleveland’s bench outscored Sacramento’s reserves 23-0 in the final period and 37-17 overall.
“Our bench stepped up and did a great job down the stretch,” James said. “Boobie and Devin Brown hit some big shots.”
The Kings, who were without injured starters Ron Artest, Kevin Martin and Mike Bibby, outhustled the Cavaliers most of the night and were still within 94-93 on Beno Udrih’s drive and scoop with 47 seconds left.
James then missed a 3-pointer, but Anderson Varejao ran down the long rebound before Gibson drained his 3 from the right wing. The Cavaliers, so sluggish for three quarters, then survived a late flurry of shots by Sacramento.
“They were outworking us,” said Brown, who contributed 13 points, three assists and two steals in 23 minutes. “I was just trying to do everything I could to change things up.”
James, who had five assists in the fourth, added eight rebounds and five steaks in 45 minutes as Cavs coach Mike Brown was unable to give his superstar any rest against a Sacramento team that had its sights on an upset.
Whenever he was double- or triple-teamed in the fourth, James found the open man and the Cavs made the Kings pay.
“I was just taking what was there,” James said. “Last game I had 19 in the fourth. Guys knocked down shots for us. It has been the other way around lately where I’ve let the first half come to me and then taken over.”
Gibson had 13 points, 10 in the fourth, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 14 points and 15 rebounds for Cleveland, which had a season-low nine turnovers.
Cleveland trailed 75-67 with 11:30 left before going on its 18-2 spurt, which included a pair of 3-pointers by Gibson. His second one made it 81-77, and James then fed Varejao for a layup and dunk as Cleveland opened an eight-point lead.
The Kings had won three straight on the road and weren’t about to go away. A 3-pointer by Salmons made it 90-89 before James, playing with a sore toe, made two free throws—his only points in the last 12 minutes—to make it a three-point game.
Cleveland got offensive rebounds from both Ilgauskas and Varejao in the final two minutes, hustle plays that were nonexistent for most of the previous 46.
The Kings were hurt by 22 turnovers, six in the fourth.
“I still thought we gave them a gift,” Sacramento coach Reggie Theus said. “We made turnovers against a team that didn’t pressure us. I thought we gave the game away down the stretch.”
The Kings are in some royal pain. They were again without leading scorer Martin (strained groin), Artest (elbow surgery) and Bibby, who hasn’t played since having offseason surgery on his left thumb.
The trio sat at the far end of Theus’ bench dressed in dark sports coats.
“A couple of times I looked down and I didn’t have anybody to play,” Theus said.
Since last season, the Cavs and Kings have had on-and-off trade discussions involving Bibby, but haven’t been able to complete a deal.
Cleveland needs a point guard and Bibby, a 10-year-veteran, would fit nicely. The hangups seem to be what the Kings want in return as well as Bibby’s contract, which will pay him $28 million over the next two seasons.
“He’s a very good point guard,” James said of the 29-year-old Bibby. “He’s been very good in this league for numerous years. He hits big shots. He plays solid defense, and he’s been in situations—especially in the playoffs— where he had to make big plays.
“You never know how good somebody could be for a team until they get here.”
Bibby, who expects to be back on the floor in 10 days, hasn’t considered a change of city, uniform or conference just yet.
“I won’t worry about that until something happens,” he said. “I’m with the Kings now and until something happens—if it does—I’ll worry about it then.”
The Cavaliers came in as the only NBA team with three players— Ilgauskas (9.8), Drew Gooden (9.0) and Varejao (8.2)—averaging at least 8.0 rebounds. James is right behind with 7.2. … Garcia and Atlanta rookie Al Horford are the only players in the league from the Dominican Republic. … Ilgauskas has 17 double-doubles—his total for all of last season.