for this game

LeBron carries Cavs to dominant win over Celtics

Jan 10, 2009 - 5:33 AM CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- The NBA is yours, Mr. James. The Boston Celtics just found out the hard way.

In a possible preview of the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron James made mincemeat of the Celtics' dominant defense on Friday, doing a lot of scoring and a little bit of everything else as he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a decisive, 98-83 victory over the league's reigning champs.

In his biggest stage yet this season, James avenged a hard-fought loss in the season opener - not to mention last year's conference semifinals - with 38 points, seven boards, six assists, four steals and three blocks. Facing a team whose stellar defense carried it to a championship last June, LeBron slashed, cut and muscled his way to whatever he wanted.

"We have to continue to protect home court," James said. "We want to continue to get better and we got better tonight. It doesn't matter who the opponent is, you want to try and get better each night. You don't want to take a step back because we have a big picture and a goal."

As his early MVP candidacy reached new levels of presumed inevitability, LeBron was a force that no player, no collection of players, no scheme could stop. In being so, he added to the Celtics' recent misery - as they have now lost seven of nine since their franchise-record 19-game winning streak - and kept the Cavaliers undefeated at home this season (19-0).

"It's great. It was a playoff game," Cavs forward Anderson Varejao said. "We went into the game with our mindset and we knew what to do to win the game. It was great."

After the Cavs opened up a 10-point lead after an impressive first quarter, the Celtics repeatedly pushed back into contention - only to see LeBron stand forcibly in their way every time. After cutting their deficit to four early in the third quarter, the superstar forward exploded down the lane for a layup, drew a foul and completed a three-point play to extend the lead to seven.

He added two more driving layups over the next two minutes, then added a deep 3-pointer near the end of the quarter to make it a 69-58 game.

"I know offensively he did a whale of a job carrying us, especially when we were stagnant and stalled out," Cavs head coach Mike Brown said. "LeBron carried us for a stretch there, just making play after play after play offensively. I thought he did it the right way. He was very aggressive in that second half attacking the rim."

With less than nine minutes to play in the fourth and the Cavs nursing an eight-point advantage, James stripped Leon Powe and went coast to coast, finishing with a lefthanded scoop layup. One possession later, he did it from the perimeter, burying a 20-foot jumper.

"I think it was the energy and effort we showed defensively as a unit," James said. "That's the thing I'm most proud of tonight. We continue to show poise, we continue to help each other defensively and we continue to use energy and effort."

To finish things off for good, LeBron buried a pair of free throws and another jumper in a 23-second span as the life slipped out of the visibly deflated Celtics - and, perhaps, their grasp atop the Eastern Conference's balance of power.

"I think teams know that (we're an elite team)," James said. "I don't think we needed to win tonight to let teams know that. ... We were a confident bunch of guys coming into this game and after this game."

Cleveland got off to a blistering start in front of a home crowd that was raucous throughout - despite a Northeast Ohio snowstorm that stopped a number of fans from getting to the arena on time. The Cavs shot 72 percent (13-of-18) in the opening frame as eight different players got on the scoreboard.

"I just thought, early and most of the game, we went at them. It is one of those games where momentum is a factor; we were unable to take the crowd out of the game," Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. "We turned the ball over in crucial stages when we cut the lead. We just didn't give ourselves a chance when we were getting back in the game."

After outdueling LeBron in last spring's semifinal Game Seven, Pierce was limited to just 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting in this one. He and LeBron both went for more 40-plus points in last May's decisive playoff showdown.

"I thought LeBron did a nice job of continuing to pursue Paul even when he got screen after screen after screen," Brown said. "I thought he just kept pursuing and trying to make (Pierce) work for his shots, and LeBron got help from his teammates, too."

Kevin Garnett registered 18 points and 15 rebounds for Boston, which shot just 41 percent (33-of-80).

"At the end of the day, we are 29-9 and that is not all that bad except for the stretch we are on right now," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "We've just got to get it right. We are going to right the ship. When? I don't know."

Varejao had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers and Mo Williams added 13 points.