LeBron, Shaq lead Cavs past Grizzlies
James tied a career high with 15 assists and Shaquille O’Neal(notes) ruled underneath, collecting 13 points and 13 rebounds in 21 minutes to help the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the worn-down Memphis Grizzlies 105-89 on Tuesday night for their ninth straight victory.
James scored 22, but like Magic Johnson, one of the legends to whom he is often compared, he was more focused on setting up his teammates.
It was the fifth time in six games James has had at least 10 assists, accepting the challenge of running Cleveland’s offense while guards Mo Williams(notes) and Delonte West(notes) are out with injuries.
“He sees things other players don’t see,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “He attacks the basket and throws it out for a 3. He attacks the basket, then throws it for a layup. He gets the ball on one side, he’s not looking, but he sees the guy and whips it all the way across the court for another 3-pointer.
“He’s just a great player. I don’t know much more that you can say about him.”
Cleveland has won its past four games by an average of 19 points.
Rudy Gay(notes) scored 15 for Memphis, playing its fourth game in five nights. Zach Randolph(notes) finished with eight points—13 below his average—on 3-of-14 shooting and O.J. Mayo(notes) had 10 on a 4-of-15 night as Cleveland’s defense clamped down hard on the Grizzlies, who beat the Cavs in December.
“We just tried to keep a body in front of all three of them, that’s O.J. and Rudy and Zach, their All-Star,” James said. “It was a whole complete defensive performance, that’s the reason we ended up winning big.”
The Grizzlies were coming off a two-point home win over the Los Angeles Lakers, but they lacked the legs or energy to run with the Cavaliers, who lead the NBA with a 39-11 record and improved to 10-0 against Western Conference teams at home this season.
“Last night had nothing to do with tonight,” Hollins said. “Tonight had to do with the Cleveland Cavaliers and what they did defensively and what they did offensively.”
James added two more great plays to his remarkable resume.
In the third quarter, he chased down Mayo from behind for a block. Late in the first half, James drove the lane, rose in the air and switched the ball from his right hand to his left before making the layup. It was reminiscent of the signature shot Michael Jordan made in the 1991 NBA finals.
“It wasn’t that good,” James said. “But thanks.”
Before the game, Cleveland’s coaches stressed the importance of stopping Memphis’ inside game, writing “Defend the paint” on the dry-erase board in the Cavs’ locker room. The Grizzlies came in leading the league with 52 points per game in the paint, but with O’Neal blocking four shots, the Cavs never let Memphis’ big men get comfortable and outscored the Grizzlies 64-34 in the lane.
Cleveland built an 18-point halftime lead and never let the Grizzlies get closer than 16 in the second half. After Mayo’s 3-pointer capped a seven-point run, James picked up a loose ball in front of the Grizzlies’ bench, calmly measured his shot and drained a 3 to put Cleveland back in control.
O’Neal doesn’t have to dominate the way he once did, but that doesn’t mean he can’t take over.
In the second quarter, the 37-year-old showed no signs of aging, imposing his will on the Grizzlies’ quality frontline of Randolph and Marc Gasol(notes). O’Neal scored seven straight points—two on a nifty spin move—before feeding James for a layup as the Cavs took a 15-point lead.
Later in the quarter, with the Cavs up by 19, O’Neal gave baseline help and rejected a short shot by Mayo. The play brought Cavs coach Mike Brown out of his seat and he led Cleveland’s fans in a rousing ovation as the 7-foot-1, 325-pound O’Neal came to the bench.
O’Neal has been coming on strong. The injuries have forced Brown to play O’Neal more than he would like, but the big man has responded.
“He looks great,” James said. “He’s motivated. When Mo and Delonte went down he decided to step his game up, which we knew he could do. He’s just playing with a little bounce in his step that he didn’t have at the start. But he had a different mindset than we all thought. We all thought he was playing slow, he was just saving himself for the second half of the season.
“He tricked all of us, I guess.”
NOTES: Daniel Gibson(notes) scored a season-high 16 for the Cavs. … The Grizzlies are the only team in the league with two players—Randolph and Gay—averaging over 20 points. … Since the start of last season, the Cavs are an NBA-best 59-5 at home. … James and Dwyane Wade(notes) will renew their rivalry on Thursday when the Cavs host Miami.