James had his third straight triple-double—34 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds—and the Cavaliers pulled away over the final seven minutes to beat the sinking Suns 119-111 on Thursday night.
“For 82 games in today’s NBA, it’s probably impossible to average a triple double,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “But if I’m going to say there is one guy who can do it, it’s our guy.”
James said he just does what is necessary.
“Three straight wins, that’s what it’s about,” he said. “I try to do any and every thing for our team to win basketball games. If I’ve got to go out and do that, then I’m all for it.”
The game turned on one remarkable play.
Phoenix was down 97-95 and had the ball for what looked to be a breakaway layup, but Jason Richardson decided to go for a 360-degree spin dunk. James raced from far behind and soared to block the attempt.
Sasha Pavlovic’s third 3-pointer of the quarter made it 100-95 with 8:33 left.
Richardson complained vehemently he was fouled on the play and drew a technical. Williams’ subsequent free throw made it 101-95 with 8:32 to go. Television replays clearly showed James hit Richardson’s wrist on the play.
“Clearly a foul, I don’t care how you look at it,” Richardson said. “It’s still a foul and that’s bad and that a guys going up like that, especially trying to do something to get the fans going, to get hammered like that and there’s no call at all, that’s terrible.”
Foul or not, it was a remarkable athletic play.
“I just didn’t give up on the play, man,” James said. “That’s just the identity of our team and who I am. I never believe a play is over and done with. A lot of people would give up on that play, but not me.”
Brown said the play “ignited our bench, it ignited our guys on the floor.”
Suns coach Alvin Gentry indicated that trying a 360-degree dunk in that situation was a mistake.
“Against a quality team like that, 51 wins they have, you can’t afford to make mistakes like that,” Gentry said.
US Airways Center was the only building in the NBA where James hadn’t won. He was 0-5 here, not counting this year’s All-Star game loss, coming into Thursday night’s contest. The Cavaliers had lost nine in a row in Phoenix.
Mo Williams, who scored a career-high 44 the first time the teams met this season, added 30 for Cleveland, including 6-of-10 3s. Matt Barnes scored 21 and Steve Nash 20 as the Suns extended their losing streak to six games, their longest in six seasons.
“I really don’t have any answers,” Gentry said. “I think we try hard and we play hard. We just can’t seem to close out games.”
James grabbed a rebound with 2.8 seconds to play for his sixth triple-double of the season and 23rd of his career.
“To get three (triple-doubles) in a row, I hope everybody and anybody out there is talking about him,” Brown said, and talking about him for MVP because he deserves it.”
Sasha Pavlovic scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers. Cleveland tied a franchise record with 17 3s in 33 attempts to win for the seventh time in eight games and improve to 12-2 since Jan. 30. The performance came two nights after Cleveland went 3-for-20 on 3s against the Clippers in Los Angeles.
The Cavaliers, 2-0 on a three-game western swing, won their franchise-record 23rd road game, surpassing the 22 they had in 1991-92. Phoenix fell six games behind Dallas for the final playoff berth in the West.
Cleveland took control of the intense contest with a late 10-2 run after Grant Hill’s three-point play cut the Cavs’ lead to 101-100 with 7:04 remaining.
Williams hit a running 7-footer and a 3-pointer and James sank a 20-footer in the surge. James capped it with two free throws that made it 111-102 with 3:45 left. Nash’s 3-pointer cut it to 113-109 with 2:11 remaining, but Williams sank another 3, James added two free throws, and the Suns were finished.
The Cavs’ Delonte West left with a sore lower back halfway through the third quarter after crashing in to Nash for an offensive foul. X-rays were negative.
O’Neal fouled out. … Cleveland improved to 21-4 against the West. … One more Cleveland victory or Detroit loss clinches the Central Division title for the Cavs. … The Suns shot 55 percent against a Cleveland team that leads the NBA in defensive field goal percentage (.429).