CLEVELAND - LeBron James did it with his scoring, rebounding and passing. When it mattered most, he did it with his defense.
With the Cavaliers clinging to a two-point lead, James made a key strip of former teammate Carlos Boozer with 12 seconds to go, helping Cleveland record a 99-94 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
"He was wide open," said James, who had 40 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks. "He didn`t see me coming from the weak side and I was able to strip the ball."
Officially, James was credited with a blocked shot, with Boozer mildly complaining to officials that the 22-year-old superstar should have been called for a foul.
"It was a good defensive play on his part," said Boozer, who finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds. "I was trying to say that he got me, but sometimes the hand is part of the ball."
The play started with Deron Williams throwing a bounce pass to Boozer in the lane. The instant Boozer caught the ball and started to go up, James took it away.
"When you get the ball out of Booz`s hands, you`ve got to strip it pretty hard," James said. "You definitely don`t get the ball out of his hands if he sees you coming."
Devin Brown split a pair of free throws to put the Cavaliers up 95-92 with 11 seconds to go. Williams missed a wide-open three from the right corner, but Boozer rebounded and passed to Andrei Kirilenko for a layup to make it a one-point game with 4.6 ticks on the clock.
James, who tied Walt Wesley`s club record with 34 second-half points, hit a pair of free throws to put the Cavaliers up 97-94 with 3.8 seconds to go, and Utah`s last chance to force overtime went awry when Mehmet Okur missed a 3-pointer.
"LeBron was huge," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "He refused to allow us to lose tonight. He just keeps filling up every statistical category every single game."
James had just six points at halftime, but scored the Cavaliers` first 14 points of the third period. He had 16 points in the first 5:26 of the quarter, all coming in transition or from the foul line.
"My best game is getting out and running," said the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder, who finished the night 13-of-27 from the field and 13-of-15 at the line. "That`s what I love to do. That`s what I`ve always done my whole life is attack. Once I get going, it`s hard to stop me."
James, who almost never tires, became so exhausted he had to go to the bench with 4Â½ minutes left in the third quarter, which also featured him jumping high above the rim to block a Williams shot.
Playing with a patchwork lineup of Damon Jones, Dwayne Jones, Ira Newble and Devin Brown early in the fourth quarter - Larry Hughes missed the game with a deep bone bruise to his left leg - James did anything and everything his team needed.
With 8:12 left in the game, he drove right, lost the ball, leaped about 8 feet across the baseline to retrieve it, then all in one motion flung the ball about 30 feet across the court - it actually went behind the basket support - to Damon Jones for a 3-pointer.
Five minutes later, James hit a fadeaway 3-pointer, then filled the lane and converted a three-point play on the next possession to put the Cavaliers up 88-81 with 3:16 to go.
Cleveland was up 90-83 with 2:19 to go, but Utah stormed right back to tie the game at 90 with 54.9 seconds remaining.
James, who scored or assisted on 15 of Cleveland`s 19 buckets in the second half, was involved in every key play from that point, including a pass to Zydrunas Ilgauskas for a baseline jumper that put the Cavaliers up 94-92 with 18.7 seconds left. On Utah`s ensuing possession, he stripped Boozer, who had totally lost Drew Gooden.
"He does everything - and a lot of everything," Mike Brown said of his small forward.
Added Ilgauskas: "He was pretty good."
Ilgauskas wasn`t bad, either, finishing with 17 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and six blocks in 34 minutes, while Gooden had 11 points and eight boards and Sasha Pavlovic had 12 points. Point guard Daniel Gibson had his worst offensive game of the season, scoring six points on 1-of-9 shooting.
All five Utah starters scored in double figures, but other than Boozer, who came in averaging 25.9 points and 12.4 rebounds, none of them played particularly well. Williams was 4-of-17 from the field and Okur was 3-of-11 as the Jazz had its five-game winning streak snapped.
The real story of the night, however, was James, who continues to play like the best player in the league. For the season, he`s averaging 29.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists.
"LeBron really took that second half over," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "From the very beginning, he started driving to the hole and getting dunks, layups and free throws. He did a helluva job of taking the game over."
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.