MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Now this is the way LeBron James likes to go for half a hundred.
It was the fourth time the league’s leading-scorer has reached 50 points in his career.
“When we win, it means a lot. Every point counted tonight,” said James, who is averaging 29.8 points. “I’ve lost a couple of games scoring 50 points, and I didn’t like it too much. To have that accomplishment, and win the ballgame, means a lot.”
Cleveland improved to 2-2 in games James scores 50.
James made 18 of 28 shots and had nine assists and eight rebounds as the Cavaliers handed the Grizzlies their fifth straight loss. James’ career high is 56 points against Toronto in March 2005. The 51 points matched the best scoring performance in the NBA this season. Denver’s Allen Iverson had 51 against the Lakers on Dec. 5.
“LeBron is fantastic,” Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni said. “I think he’s got more passing ability than Magic (Johnson) because he can put it on a dime and with zip. It’s a function of his ability to score. He allows people to get free. He’s 6-foot-9, and he can see.”
The teams were tied at 113 at the end of regulation after Navarro’s 3-pointer with 10.3 seconds left. James missed the potential game-winner from 19 feet as time expired.
Pau Gasol finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who shot 54 percent from the field.
Cleveland shot 53 percent in winning its ninth game in the last 12, and edging two games above .500 (20-18) for the first time since the Cavaliers were 9-7 on Nov. 25.
Memphis trailed by as many as 10 early in the fourth, and at one point, James scored 10 straight Cleveland points.
But back-to-back 3-pointers by Gay followed by a James turnover that led to a fastbreak basket by Navarro helped Memphis take a 106-104 lead with 2:55 remaining.
Neither team could gain much of an advantage the rest of the way, including three more ties in the final 1:28 in regulation.
“We don’t like having to have a shootout,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We’ve got to do a better job of finishing when we get up big, and a better job of focusing in on doing the correct things in terms of moving the ball. We had some bad turnovers.”
James had 13 points, and Gibson added 10 to help Cleveland take a 56-53 lead at halftime.
Navarro provided a spark for the Grizzlies with 11 first-half points, and Gay had 10.
James leads the league in scoring average in the fourth quarter with 9.4 points, and down the stretch in both regulation and overtime Cleveland had him running the show. In addition to the 25 points in the final two frames, James had four assists.
“We have a fourth-quarter team right now that’s playing really good basketball,” James said. “We didn’t get stops like we usually get, but for some odd reason, we know how to execute on the offensive end. We make plays, and we make big plays.”
For the Grizzlies, it was another missed opportunity. Memphis already is 1-9 in games decided by three points or less. After Tuesday’s loss, the Grizzlies are 0-3 in overtime.
“Once again, it’s a tough game to get over, losing these game by a couple of possessions,” Conley said. “I thought we fought hard. We got the game back into overtime. We started off overtime pretty well, but they just kept fighting back at us and got the ball to bounce their way a couple of times.”
Tuesday’s game started a stretch where the Cavaliers will play six of eight games on the road. … Gibson’s 3-pointer in the second period gave him 24 straight games connecting from outside the arc, second-longest streak in Cavaliers history. Mark Price, now the Grizzlies shooting coach, holds the Cleveland record with 34 straight games in the 1989-90 season. … Grizzlies C Darko Milicic left the game just before the half with right knee soreness and did not return. … The Grizzlies have lost four straight in the series and haven’t defeated the Cavaliers since November, 2005.