LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers sent a message to the Boston Celtics in their final matchup during the regular season: They will not relinquish the Eastern Conference’s top seed that easily.
James had 36 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as Cleveland ran past Boston 114-91 on Wednesday to move back into first place in the East.
The teams had identical records entering their final regular-season matchup, but Cleveland (51-27) now have a one-game lead over Boston (50-28) with only four games to play. Cleveland also hold the tiebreaker with the Celtics for the top seed, if needed.
Photo: David Butler II-USA Today
“Just trying to get our team right going down the stretch brings out the best in me,” James said. “We knew we were coming to a hostile building tonight, and just wanted to try and play our game ... and we did that.”
Kyrie Irving added 19 points and five assists.
The Cavaliers played without starting center Tristan Thompson, who was out with a sprained thumb, but they performed without him, surging at the start of the second quarter and taking as much as a 29-point lead in the third quarter. They also outrebounded Boston 51-38.
Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 26 points.
“We laid an egg tonight,” Thomas said. “There’s no way around that. We didn’t take advantage of the opportunity that we had tonight.”
James’ output has increased noticeably over the past week as the regular season winds down. He entered Wednesday coming off back-to-back triple-doubles in Sunday’s double-overtime win against Indiana and a blowout win over Orlando on Tuesday, while logging 89 minutes over those two games.
He played another 39 minutes on Wednesday, finally going to the bench with 4 minutes, 4 seconds remaining.
James said it is to be determined whether his team has truly turned a page this week.
“Only time will tell, but we played Cavs basketball tonight and when we do that we’re a pretty good team,” he said. “So we’ve got four more games left and we can see how we can finish the season off.”
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