Anderson Varejao’s first career three-pointer proved the perfect birthday gift for Cavaliers teammate LeBron James.
Varejao knocked down the three with 17.2 seconds to play to help secure Cleveland’s 106-101 NBA victory over Atlanta on Wednesday, insuring that James’ 48-point performance wasn’t in vain.
James, who turned 25 on Wednesday, notched his season high, and added 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who claimed their 11th victory in 12 games.
The score was knotted at 101-101 and the shot clock was winding down when Brazil’s Varejao got the ball. He stepped up and made the long-range shot, prompting James to embrace him.
Atlanta’s Mike Bibby then missed a three-point attempt with six seconds remaining, and Cleveland’s Jamario Moon made two free throws to seal it.
Joe Johnson scored 35 for the Hawks, who were managed just 37 points in the second half.
Varejao’s key shot was first ruled a two-pointer, but after a video review officials determined his feet were behind the three-point line.
The Cavaliers, who beat the Hawks in Atlanta on Tuesday, looked out of sorts much of the night and trailed by 17 in the third quarter.
They narrowed the gap with a 22-7 scoring run, but were down 85-77 going into the final quarter.
It all came good, however, to give James another reason to celebrate.
At 25, he can already look back on an impressive array of accomplishments, among them a No. 1 overall draft pick, NBA Rookie of the Year, five-time All-Star, Olympic gold medalist and league Most Valuable Player.
James’ 13,927 points before turning 25 were more than any player in NBA history. Carmelo Anthony (10,768) was second followed by Kobe Bryant (10,658).
“It’s amazing,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said of James. “You know how they say a young person has an old soul? Well, he’s got an old game. It’s athletic, powerful and energetic. The whole nine yards. It feels like he’s been doing it forever.”
SUNS 116, CELTICS 98
At Phoenix, Amare Stoudemire and Channing Frye scored 26 points each as Phoenix handed what was left of Boston their third straight loss.
The Celtics were without injured Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the final stop of what turned out to be an awful four-game road trip.
Eddie House led the Celtics with 19 points, going 5 of 7 on threes.
Ray Allen managed 15 points of 4 of 13 shooting.
MAGIC 117, BUCKS 92
At Orlando, Florida, Vince Carter overcame a hard collision to score 25 points and rally Orlando past Milwaukee.
Carter was thrust under the courtside seats on a hard hit by Ersan Ilyasova late in the third quarter that gave Orlando a brief scare. The Magic’s star shooting guard shook off the pain and never exited, igniting a 17-2 run that helped them pull away.
Dwight Howard had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Jason Williams added 16 points to help Orlando rebound from its Christmas Day loss to Boston.
Brandon Jennings had 20 points, and Andrew Bogut had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucks, who lost for the seventh time in their last eight games.
RAPTORS 107, BOBCATS 103
At Toronto, Chris Bosh had 33 points and 13 rebounds, and Andrea Bargnani matched his season high with 28 points as Toronto beat Charlotte for its season-high fifth straight victory.
Marco Belinelli scored 13 points and rookie DeMar DeRozan had 10 as Toronto avenged its worst defeat of the season, a 116-81 loss at Charlotte on Nov. 25 — the biggest margin of victory in Bobcats history.