While James scored 33 points, two baskets by Ben Wallace—the veteran forward’s only points of the game—and a clutch jumper by Delonte West, helped the Cavaliers hold off a late Charlotte rally to defeat the Bobcats, 98-91.
James, the league’s leading scorer, was more than happy to share the spotlight.
“It shows they can help this team if we put them in positions to score,” said James, who had 10 assists and seven rebounds.
The Cavaliers held on after nearly squandering an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Jason Richardson, who matched James with 33 points, sparked Charlotte’s comeback. He scored nine straight points, including two 3-pointers and a three-point play late in the game.
Richardson’s second 3-pointer in his spurt cut the lead to 92-91 with 1:08 left, but West hit an 18-foot jumper with 52.7 seconds left to put Cleveland up by three.
James guarded Richardson on the Bobcats’ next possession and forced him to the baseline. Richardson got to the basket, but Wallace was in his way and the Bobcats’ leading scorer couldn’t convert his point-blank shot.
As he usually does in close games, James took on the assignment of trying to stop the opponent’s top player.
“I’m always going to take a challenge defensively,” he said. “He did catch fire. I was able to speed him up a little bit and the weak-side defense came over and helped.”
Cleveland coach Mike Brown is constantly preaching defense to his team.
“At that point you need to get a stop,” James said. “You know down the stretch that if you can get one stop and a score, then the game can get out of reach. We were able to accomplish that.”
James put the game away with a bank shot after heavy contact in the lane with 10.3 seconds left.
Wallace, who had 15 rebounds, was scoreless until scoring inside on a pass from West with 1:57 left and following with a dunk off West’s missed layup on the Cavaliers’ next possession. His baskets kept Cleveland ahead during Richardson’s splurge.
“I did get it going,” said Richardson, who was 13-for-24 from the field. “I missed a couple, but I got us back in the game. We got it to one or two points, but then Ben got a tip and that was the turning point in the game.”
Charlotte coach Sam Vincent thought the disparity in free throws was another turning point. The Cavaliers were 22-for-31 while the Bobcats were 7-for-15 from the line.
“I was talking to (official) Steve Javie about it all night,” Vincent said. “It comes down to what the referee saw. They didn’t see them making fouls and we thought we saw something different. We’ve got to live with the decisions they make.”
James took control in the third quarter, scoring 14 points with three rebounds and two assists. He made 4 of 5 shots from the field, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock winding down late in the period.
James has scored 20 or more points in 44 straight games.
James was given a rest with the Cavaliers leading 77-66 at the 9:57 mark. The Bobcats scored the next five points, including a 3-pointer by Earl Boykins, that cut the lead to six with 8:32 left. The Cavaliers called a timeout and James returned to the game.
Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas returned to the starting lineup after missing seven games with an inflamed disk in his lower back. He had 16 points and nine rebounds.
The Cavaliers have won a season-high seven straight at home.
The Cavaliers, who are fourth in the Eastern Conference, play at Orlando on Monday night. The Magic have the third-best record in the East. … Richardson has scored 30 or more points 11 times this season. … After winning five in a row, the Bobcats have dropped their past three.