for this game

James, Cavaliers advance to Eastern Conference Finals

May 19, 2007 - 6:39 AM EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have another date with the Detroit Pistons.

James collected 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Cavaliers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1992 with an 88-72 victory over the New Jersey Nets in Game Six of the conference semifinals on Friday.

Donyell Marshall celebrated his 34th birthday at New Jersey's expense, scoring nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter for Cleveland, which lost to Detroit in seven games in their second-round matchup last season. But this time around, a trip the NBA Finals will be up for grabs in a meeting between the East's top two seeds.

"It's a great feeling, I'm not going to lie," James said. "This is one of the best feelings I've ever had. We've been talking about championship all year and now we're closer to what we want to accomplish."

But before securing their appointment with the Pistons, the Cavaliers needed to eliminate a feisty Nets squad.

Cleveland raced out to a 22-point lead in the second quarter, but New Jersey staged a furious rally in the third after James went to the bench with his fourth foul at 6:50.

Cleveland saw its 15-point lead evaporate quickly, missing 10 consecutive shots and 11-of-12 as New Jersey's Jason Kidd took over. Kidd scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the quarter, which the Nets closed on a 12-2 run to pull within 61-60.

The Cavaliers managed a postseason-low eight points in the third quarter on 4-of-19 shooting, but James returned in the fourth to keep the Nets from getting the lead.

"It was tough on every Cavs fan," James said. "It was just one of those quarters. But we kept our composure and we were able to reverse it."

New Jersey's Mikki Moore completed a three-point play to make it 64-63 with 9:36 left, but James took over in the fourth surrounded by a smaller lineup that included shooters Marshall, Daniel Gibson and Damon Jones.

James assisted on consecutive 3-pointers by Marshall and Gibson that gave the Cleveland a 70-63 cushion with 7:44 to go and buried four jumpers in the final seven minutes.

"I can see the whole floor at lot better with those guys spaced out," James said. "Me being aggressive, driving and kicking with guys making shots, it's the best feeling in the world."

Meanwhile, New Jersey went nearly eight minutes without making a shot, missing eight in a row as the game slipped out of reach.

"They made all the right plays down the stretch," Kidd said. "We spent a lot of energy getting back into the game, but that's no excuse."

Marshall, who was 0-of-7 in Game Five, buried half of his six 3-pointers in the final eight minutes. He had scored just 10 points in the first five games of the series.

"It was very rewarding," Marshall said. "After the last game, I actually went home and laughed. With today being my birthday, Lebron told me they were going to get it done for me today. To actually go out there and be part of it, it's awesome. It's probably the best feeling I've had in my career."

Drew Gooden scored 16 points for the Cavaliers, who made 11-of-27 3-pointers.

Kidd could not muster the energy to lead another rally and finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists - averaging a triple-double in the series. It was the second time Kidd accomplished the feat, becoming the third player to do so. The others were Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson.

"I shot an airball (in the fourth), that's when I knew I was a little tired," Kidd said. "But we put ourselves in that hole, and at that point, I was just hoping somebody would pick it up from where I left but unfortunately that didn't happen."

"He's probably the best point guard I've ever seen in my whole life," James said.

Richard Jefferson had 16 points and eight rebounds, but Vince Carter was held to 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting in what might have been his last game with the Nets. Carter can opt of his contract after the season and may test free agency.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "We have a great nucleus of guys, so it would be great to keep it together."

The Cavaliers closed the first quarter on a 23-4 run led by nine points from James, who had 14 in the period. Cleveland made 7-of-10 shots during the stretch while New Jersey was just 2-of-11 - a pattern that repeated itself in the fourth.

"There is no doubt that Cleveland was the aggressor in the first half," New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said. "They basically did whatever they wanted to do."


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