An inspirational LeBron James scored 38 points to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to an emphatic 98-83 home victory over the NBA champion Boston Celtics on Friday.
The All-Star forward filled out the stat-sheet with seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocks as Cleveland improved their league-best record to 29-6.
“I don’t think we needed to win tonight to let teams know we’re a confident bunch of guys,” said James, who finished 13-for-25 shooting from the field and scored 23 second-half points to keep the Celtics at bay.
“We just want to continue to play well and protect our home court and we did that once again.”
The struggling Celtics (29-9) were led by Kevin Garnett, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds, but could not prevent his team from losing for a fourth straight game and for the seventh time in the last nine contests.
Last season, the Celtics defeated the Cavaliers 4-3 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-finals, but an improved Cleveland appear ready to lay claim to the conference crown.
Mo Williams, acquired in the off-season to provide the team with added scoring, had 13 points while Anderson Varejao had 14 and nine rebounds as the Cavaliers lifted their perfect home record to 19-0.
Boston trailed the entire game but pulled to within 61-56 with 2:48 left in the third. Cleveland closed the quarter with an 11-4 spurt and never looked back.
Ray Allen had 12 points and Paul Pierce added 11 but shot just 4-for-15 for the Celtics, who looked a shadow of the team that started the season in such fine style.
Boston blazed out to a franchise-best 27-2 start this year, including a 19-game winning streak, but have sputtered since a Christmas Day setback against the Los Angeles Lakers and have now dropped to third place in the Eastern Conference.
MAGIC 121, HAWKS 87
In Orlando, Florida, Orlando built a remarkable 38-point lead by halftime to crush Atlanta.
Hedo Turkoglu hit all five 3-point attempts, scoring 21 points for the Magic, who enjoyed their best offensive night, start-to-finish, this season and notched an 11th straight home win.
The game was decided early and decisively when the Magic ran off a season-high 41 points in the first quarter and tied their season high for a half. The Magic held the Hawks to just 25 percent shooting over the first two quarters and led 71-33 at halftime.
PISTONS 93, NUGGETS 90
In Denver, Tayshaun Prince hit a running jump shot with 20 seconds left to give Detroit their first lead and it hung on to edge Denver.
The Pistons overcame 30 points by Chauncey Billups to get the win in Allen Iverson’s return to the Mile High city.
Iverson, making his first appearance in Denver since being traded to Detroit for Billups and two others. He led the Pistons with 23 points — 20 in the second half.
LAKERS 121, PACERS 119
In Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant made a tiebreaking jump shot with three seconds left and scored the Lakers’ last 11 points as Los Angeles pipped Indiana.
Bryant finished with 36 points and 13 assists. After his turnaround jumper, the Pacers took a timeout but were unable to get off a shot before the final buzzer.
The Lakers improved their home record to 19-2 and remained tied with Cleveland for the best overall record in the league at 29-6.
SUNS 128, MAVERICKS 100
In Phoenix, the home team used a third-quarter scoring deluge to bury Dallas.