James Scores 51 as Cavs Beat Utah
Cleveland 108, Utah 90
SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 21 (Ticker) -- Imagine how many points LeBron James would have scored if he didn't have a sore knee.
James erupted for 51 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers salvaged the finale of their six-game road trip with a 108-90 victory over the suddenly slumping Utah Jazz.
"Wow. All I can say is wow," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "He was really close (to not playing). He went and got X-rays today, had it looked at by the doctor, and it was down to the last buzzer."
James, matched up for most of the game against one of the NBA's top defenders in Andrei Kirilenko, did most of his damage in the second half. He scored 15 points in the third quarter, when the Cavaliers took the lead for good, then added 17 in the final period, when Cleveland turned it into a rout.
"He's a good defender," James said. "I just wanted to be aggressive, wanted to get to my comfort level and my comfort spots on the court, and try to raise up and shoot over the top of him."
The Cavaliers (21-17) needed a big game from James. They had lost a season-high six in a row, including the first five of this trip. In Friday's loss, James connected on just 5-of-22 shots for a season-low 14 points.
His poor play in the clutch has sparked criticism during the losing streak. But James responded with one of the biggest nights of his career.
"It was a great performance. People have gotta understand, the kid is still 21 years old. What do you expect out of him?" said Cavs forward Donyell Marshall, who scored 24 points. "He's doing everything he can so I think the criticism has been unfair because us other guys weren't making shots, either."
"He was terrific. He made his shots, and he's just a wonderful player," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I think we were intimidated by him a great deal."
While Utah held control early, James raised his level of play as the game wore on as his scoring output increased in each successive quarter.
He helped put the Jazz away for good in the early minutes of the fourth period, scoring eight points in a 17-4 burst that turned a six-point advantage into 92-73 lead.
"We wanted to get stops and get out and run,"James said. "They kept dropping my pick-and-roll, so I kept stepping behind and shooting the three and getting to the lane penetrating, and that opened it up for myself and opened it up for my teammates."
"The offense took off, but I thought we also did a nice job getting stops," Brown said. "When we get stops, that usually fuels our break. When we get out and run, we're at our best, and that was proven tonight."
After suffering the knee injury Friday night, James said he wasn't even sure whether he would be able to play when he woke up Saturday.
"If it was a 1:00 game, I wouldn't have been able to play," James said. "I got up this morning, my knee was hurting really bad, I barely could walk. I did some treatment all day, and my knee felt a lot better. ... I didn't want to be in the position where I wasn't there for my teammates tonight, and I was going to give as much as I could."
It was the third career 50-point game for James, but just the first the Cavaliers have won. He scored a career-high 56 points in a loss to Toronto last season and had a season-high 52 earlier this season in a loss to Milwaukee.
At 21 years, 22 days, James also became the youngest player in NBA history to score 5,000 points.
"He dinged up his knee, he was a game-time decision, he's coming down with a cold, he was sick during the game then he goes for 51 tonight. That guy is flat-out amazing," Brown said. "He is a great player now, and he's going to be great for years to come."
The Cavaliers shot 54 percent (38-of-70) from the field as they won their fourth straight meeting with the Jazz and completed the season series sweep.
"It was definitely important for us to get a win," Marshall said. "We haven't played well, but you don't want to go out of (the road trip) emptyhanded."
Mehmet Okur had 20 points and 13 rebounds and Kirilenko scored 19 points for the Jazz, who have lost four of their last five games.