CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 30 points, 24 in the second half, and Cleveland wore down the aging Boston Celtics for a 104-93 victory on Sunday, the Cavaliers’ second decisive win over one of the East’s premier teams in less than a month.
The Cavaliers were closer to full strength with the return of forward Antawn Jamison, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds after missing one game with a sore knee. Anderson Varejao had 17 points and 10 boards.
Last month, the Cavs beat the Celtics by 20 in Boston. In that game, center Shaquille O’Neal sustained a serious thumb injury and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Cleveland doesn’t appear to be missing him right now.
Ray Allen scored 20, while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had 18 apiece for the Celtics.
But Boston’s Big Three was no match for Cleveland’s Chosen One.
James added eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in another MVP-type performance. He also shook off being accidentally poked in the left eye in the third quarter by Garnett.
Leading by eight after three, the Cavs scored the first nine points in the fourth. Cleveland’s defense, which usually gets tougher in the final 12 minutes, forced the Celtics to take bad shots and Boston missed its first eight shots in the fourth.
The Cavs appeared in control and on their way to a runaway win when Jamison’s basket made it 91-74. But Pierce hit a 3-pointer and Allen followed with one of his own as the Celtics, who went scoreless for a span of 7:09 bridging the third and fourth quarters, fought back.
James, though, converted a three-point play to put the Cavs back in control and his two free throws put Cleveland up 101-89 with 2:03 left.
James then capped Cleveland’s 29th home win by crossing over Kendrick Perkins near the foul line, driving inside and dropping a left-handed layup while being fouled. James seemed annoyed the Celtics would have the audacity to put Perkins on him.
Rajon Rondo had 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Celtics.
The teams were meeting for the first time since Feb. 25, when O’Neal hurt his thumb when he was fouled by Boston’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Cleveland fans have been angered by TV replays, which appeared to show Davis grabbing and squeezing O’Neal’s thumb after the injury occurred.
Before the game, Davis strongly denied he tried to hurt O’Neal, a fellow LSU product and a player he has always revered.
“I did not try to break Shaq’s hand,” Davis said. “That’s crazy. Why would I try to do that? I wasn’t trying to grab his hand. You know how you try to frustrate somebody or just mess with them, get his balance off? That was a freak accident, really.”
Davis was aware of the accusations.
“I heard about it,” he said. “I don’t even remember touching his hand.”
Davis was booed when he entered the game in the first quarter and every time he touched the ball. He expected the rude treatment.
“I’m not popular at all anywhere,” he said.
Davis added to his villainous reputation in the second quarter when he was faked off his feet and flattened Jamison, who was setting up to shoot. In the third, he sent Varejao sprawling into the front row with a shoulder bump.
With James guarding him, Pierce missed his first six shots and didn’t score until 1:51 remained before halftime. Pierce did make three free throws in the final second to bring the Celtics within 54-48 at the break.
Boston had to feel fortunate to be so close since Pierce and Allen were a combined 3 of 14 from the field and Garnett was in foul trouble with three personals.
NOTES: Since undergoing surgery, O’Neal been home in Florida. James said he periodically checks in with his teammate. “I’m giving him his space,” he said, laughing. James isn’t concerned about the center not returning in tiptop shape. “He knows how to police himself, literally,” James said of O’Neal, who has previously worked as an auxiliary policeman. “He’ll be fine. He knows what’s at stake and he’s not going to jeopardize himself or jeopardize our team.” … Rondo needs 92 assists to pass Bob Cousy’s single-season team record. Cousy had 715 assists for the Celtics in 1959-60.