James Stars Late, Cavaliers Edge Rockets
Cleveland 104, Houston 102 (OT)
HOUSTON, March 26 (Ticker) -- LeBron James got one first out of the way and inched one step closer to another.
James scored 36 points and Damon Jones added a season-high 22 off the bench as the Cavaliers extended their winning streak to five games with a 104-102 overtime victory over the Houston Rockets.
"We really did a good job executing down the stretch," said James, who was 14-of-34 from the floor and 8-of-11 from the line. "We've been through just about every scenario. We handled it well this time."
"He's truly a great player," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "He's a special talent, a special basketball IQ. It just shows you how hard this league is if he hasn't been to the playoffs yet."
Jones made all seven of his shots in regulation, but the Cavs still turned to James with the game on the line.
The fourth quarter featured 12 lead changes, the final one coming on rookie Luther Head's short runner that gave the Rockets an 89-88 edge with 34 seconds left.
Yao Ming blocked Flip Murray's layup on the other end and Juwan Howard hit a pair of free throws to build a three-point edge with 25 seconds remaining in regulation.
However, James - who passed up a shot on the previous possession - drove past Keith Bogans and hit a tough layup while drawing a foul from Yao.
"I knew that we were up three, and there is no need for me to foul him," said Yao, who scored 27 points on 9-of-21 shooting. "I thought (James) played a very good game. He makes his teammates much better, getting the ball to the open man."
James hit the ensuing free throw to tie it, 91-91, and stole the ball from Yao on the other end to force OT.
Ilgauskas and Yao opened overtime with four points apiece before James gave Cleveland the lead for good, 97-95, with a dunk over Howard with 3:25 to play.
Donyell Marshall hit a jumper to make it 99-95 with 2:01 left. Howard answered with a pair of free throws and Jones and Alston traded layups as the Rockets cut the deficit to 101-99 with 29 seconds to go.
James rebuilt a four-point edge on the ensuing possession, again driving past Bogans to draw a double-team and setting up Ilgauskas for an easy dunk with just under 10 seconds left.
"Once he gets going, he'll get his looks," Bogans said. "Guarding a guy like that ... he's tough. He shot the ball 34 times. That's almost like every time down the court. I had to be ready for him to put it up. It was a tough assignment."
Yao hit a jumper and Jones made 1-of-2 from the line to give the Rockets a chance, but the Cavs fouled Rafer Alston with less than a second remaining. Alston was forced to intentionally miss the second free throw, and Cleveland safely tipped the rebound out of bounds to seal the victory.
"That was a pretty frustrating game," Yao said. "The whole game we were playing with a lot of intensity and a lot of effort."
Jones - who played at the University of Houston - finished 8-of-10 from the floor for Cleveland, which improved to 5-0 in overtime. He made 5-of-6 from the arc.
"This was my first win in Houston in my eight-year career," Jones said. "It was extremely special to make the big plays at the end of the game. You want to come home and do well, and I'm all about the team and W's." "It was exciting for (Jones) him to play as well as he did," James said. "He penetrated and knocked down the threes. He showed his whole arsenal today."
Bogans scored 11 of his 18 points in the first half as the Rockets built a 47-45 edge. He added a 3-pointer in a 13-2 run that pushed the advantage to 62-49 with four minutes to go in the third period.
But James and Jones combined for nine points and three assists as the Cavs closed the quarter with a 15-5 spurt to draw within 67-64.
"We're having different guys step up, and that has been big for us to get these wins," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "I'm happy we stayed with the game plan and executed our offense, even when we got behind and found a way to get the win."