CLEVELAND (AP)—LeBron James walked to the center of the floor as fans who have watched him grow from local teenage prodigy to NBA superstar drowned him in cheers.
As they stood and screamed, James returned their love by blowing kisses.
The kid from nearby Akron has done it all so quickly, in the blink of an eye.
From the franchise’s top pick to its top scorer—in less than five years.
“The crazy thing about it is that he’s 23,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “Absolutely amazing.”
James passed Brad Daugherty as Cleveland’s career scoring leader in the first quarter and finished with 29 points, leading the Cavaliers to a 90-83 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night in a possible first-round playoff preview.
In just his fifth NBA season, James has already moved to the top of Cleveland’s scoring chart, a remarkable achievement for a remarkable player whose potential seems limitless. He scored 23 points in the second half, including 11 in the final 7:19 as the Cavaliers won their ninth straight at home.
When the final horn sounded, James was handed the game ball by referee Dick Bavetta before his mother, Gloria, rushed on the floor to plant a kiss on her only child.
“I think I made my mom proud,” he said.
And just about everyone else in Northeast Ohio.
In hardly no time at all, he has resurrected the Cavaliers, first leading them back to the playoffs and then all they way to the NBA finals for the first time. He has given Cleveland sports fans a reasonable hope that one of the city’s star-crossed pro teams may end a four-decades-old world title drought.
It took Daugherty 548 games to amass 10,389 points. James, the NBA’s leading scorer, has 10,414 points in just 380 games.
“It took me 13 years to get 10,000 points,” Cavs forward Joe Smith said. “It goes to show what kind of talent he is. I know he has at least 30,000 more in him.”
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 16 points, Devin Brown scored 14 and Damon Jones knocked down two crucial 3-pointers early in the fourth for Cleveland, which opened a 4 1/2 -game lead over the Raptors for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Chris Bosh scored 24 points in his second game back after missing 10 with a sore knee for Toronto, which slipped to No. 6 in the East. Rasho Nesterovic added 16 for the Raptors, who held the Miami Heat to 54 points in a win on Wednesday night.
They would have no such luck containing James, who had his usual assortment of thundering dunks, drives and clutch jumpers.
“He had a couple of dunks where we didn’t rotate over and he got to the rim,” Bosh said. “We should have been a little smarter than that.”
James came in needing just five points to overtake Daugherty, and he pushed past the former All-Star center in fitting fashion.
Powering through traffic in the lane, James went strong to the basket and muscled in one of his patented, scooping layups.
The sellout crowd at Quicken Loans Arena immediately rose to give James a thundering ovation and when Brown called a timeout, the All-Star forward first walked to the bench to receive high-fives and hugs from his teammates.
Then, he walked to the center of the court to acknowledge Cleveland’s fans, who serenaded him with “MVP” chants throughout the evening.
“These fans have watched me go from zero points to 10,000,” he said. “They’ve seen me go from a young man to a man now. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had. To be the all-time leader is something that I never dreamed of. But now that it’s here, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The Raptors nearly spoiled James’ historic night, pulling even at 77 on T.J. Ford’s jumper with 5:24 left. But James’ dunk made it 81-77, and after Bosh scored, Ilgauskas made two free throws to give Cleveland an 83-79 cushion.
James, who always has a flair for the dramatic, then hit a 3-pointer to put the Cavs up 86-79 and end Toronto’s upset bid.
Trailing by nine in the second quarter, the Raptors scratched within three by halftime and took the lead midway through the third on consecutive 3-pointers by Anthony Parker.
At that point, James was the only one doing anything for Cleveland. He scored 10 straight points and 12 of the Cavs’ first 14 in the period, but it wasn’t enough as the Raptors took a 67-63 lead into the fourth.
Cleveland’s Ben Wallace went out with back spasms in the third and didn’t return. He missed a game last week with the same problem.
The Cavs have won 12 of 14 vs. the Raptors. … Brown proudly wore a powder blue San Diego Toreros T-shirt to his pregame media availability. Brown played guard for the school, which knocked off Connecticut in Friday’s NCAA tournament. “A Torero is a bullfighter for everyone who didn’t know,” Brown said. “My oldest son isn’t too happy, he picked UConn in his bracket.” As Brown was talking, Cavs guard Eric Snow walked by and yelled, “Front runner. You haven’t worn that shirt in four years.” … Cavs G Daniel Gibson has targeted next Wednesday’s game against New Orleans for his return from an ankle sprain. … Referee Brian Forte became ill before the game and remained back in the dressing room, leaving Bavetta and Violet Palmer to work the game as a two-person crew.