LeBron Struggles; Cavs Top Pacers Anyway
Cleveland 94, Indiana 89
CLEVELAND, Dec. 23 (Ticker) -- On a night when he struggled through one of his worst shooting performances of the season, LeBron James proved he can do other things to help the Cleveland Cavaliers win.
James collected 14 points, eight rebounds and nine assists to lift the Cavaliers to a hard-fought 94-89 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
It was the fifth straight triumph for Cleveland, which squandered a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, only to be rescued by James.
"We were in the position to win the game at the end because we buckled down," Cavaliers forward Donyell Marshall said.
Despite his poor shooting, James made several key plays down the stretch. With the game tied, 86-86, James drove the lane and warded off a defender before converting an acrobatic layup to give Cleveland the lead for good with 56 seconds left.
Indiana turned the ball over on the ensuing possession when Eric Snow drew an offensive foul on Jamaal Tinsley.
"LeBron did what he is supposed to do - he took over - and Eric Snow made a big stop," Marshall said.
"A lot of guys stepped up individually," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "I bet you there's no one in this building who thinks we win when (James is) 4-of-16 against the Pacers."
James again attacked the basket on Cleveland's next possession, but Indiana brought multiple defenders. With time winding down on the shot clock, James dished into the right corner for Larry Hughes, who dribbled to the free-throw line before drilling a fadeaway jumper to push Cleveland's lead to 90-86.
"It was one of the biggest games of the year for us thus far," James said. "We were able to dig down and get the win."
After Indiana's Stephen Jackson missed a 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining, James was fouled and connected on 1-of-2 free throws. Hughes added a pair from the stripe with 10 seconds left to cement the victory.
"This is the type of game we need to know how to win," Brown said. "Against a good team, it's close at the end of the ballgame, and we figure out a way to win."
Drew Gooden collected a season-best 21 points and 12 rebounds, Hughes scored 18 points and Marshall added 17 off the bench for the Cavs, who shot 46 percent (6-of-13) from the arc and went to the free-throw line 37 times.
Jermaine O'Neal scored a season-high 34 points and grabbed 11 boards for the Pacers, who fell to 5-2 without troubled swingman Ron Artest, who remains inactive since demanding a trade.
"I thought our guys showed a lot of guts, hanging and finding a way to claw back into the game," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "Jermaine O'Neal was great and we had a lot of other guys who stepped up and played big."
"I'm not sure they made more plays. We made all the plays in the fourth quarter," Indiana guard Fred Jones added. "We came back and tied the game, we just could not get over that burden to get the lead."
The Cavaliers avenged an embarrassing 98-76 loss at Indiana on Thanksgiving.
"Anytime they beat us, we want to try and beat them back," James said. "This should make for a good Eastern Conference rivalry."