James scored 21 points on another off-shooting night, but Delonte West scored 21, Joe Smith had 17 and the Cavaliers raced to a large, early lead in Game 3 in a 108-84 victory Saturday night over the road-challenged Boston Celtics to pull within 2-1 in their playoff series.
West, who spent three seasons wearing Celtic green and white, carried the scoring load for the Cavaliers, who are attempting to become the 14th team in NBA history to come back from an 0-2 deficit and win a best-of-seven series.
They've had practice at it.
Last year, the Cavaliers lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals to Detroit before beating the Pistons four in a row to advance to the finals for the first time. After dropping Games 1 and 2 in Boston, Cleveland needed James (8-of-42 in the losses) to shoot his way out of a slump.
James was only 5-of-16 from the floor, but his teammates stepped it up, going a combined 32-of-54 (59 percent) to tighten the second-round series. Cleveland roared to a 32-13 lead after one quarter, led by 17 at half, 16 after three and easily withstood a few Boston counter punches.
"We came out and attacked," West said. "We jumped on them and didn't give it back."
The Celtics remain lost on the road, and Game 4 is Monday night in Cleveland.
They've yet to win outside of Massachusetts during this postseason, not an encouraging sign for a team with its sights on a 17th league title. The Celtics went 0-3 in Atlanta during the first round as the Hawks averaged 100.7 points and shot 47.6 percent in three home games.
"On the road it's going to take a little bit more ... we've got to learn our lesson pretty soon," forward Paul Pierce said.
Kevin Garnett scored 17 points, Pierce 14 and Ray Allen 10 as Boston's Big 3 of superstars combined for 41 points.
But the trio was no match for Cleveland's Fab Four of West, Wally Szczerbiak, Smith and Ben Wallace — all acquired in deals at the Feb. 21 trading deadline — who totaled 63 points, 20 rebounds and six 3-pointers. West made four 3s, Smith went 7-of-8 and Wallace, who wasn't expected to play because of an inner ear infection, gave Cleveland an inside presence while guarding Garnett.
The Cavs played a nearly flawless first quarter. They shot 65 percent (13-of-20), had 11 assists on those field goals and didn't commit a turnover. Beyond that, Cleveland didn't rely on James to carry them, as six other Cavs combined for 27 of the club's 32 points.
At halftime, James only had seven points but the Cavs were shooting 66 percent (19-of-29) and moving the ball on offense, something coach Mike Brown has insisted is key if his team plans to advance past the league's best defensive squad.
Before the game, James said a few "easy baskets" might help him get started.
His first one was both simple — and strong.
With the Cavs leading 10-4, James poked the ball away from Pierce near the free throw line and broke free for a two-handed, stare-at-the-rim dunk that sent Cleveland's hyped crowd into a frenzy. Wallace scored twice underneath and Szczerbiak's two free throws put the Cavaliers up 18-6.
James' next basket was a 3-pointer during a 9-0 spurt that Cleveland a 27-8 lead on its way to a 19-point advantage after one.
The Cavaliers were leading 39-17 in the second quarter when this series had its first moment of tension.
As he was driving to the basket, James was grabbed around the neck by James Posey and fell awkwardly in the lane. He laid face down on the floor as both teams exchanged angry words and Anderson Varejao and Posey earned technicals for their exuberance.
The officials huddled and gave Posey a flagrant-1 for the hard foul, which seemed to deter the teams from more rough stuff.
Cleveland maintained its double-digit lead throughout the second half, and closed out a game it had to have. No team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit, something the Cavs don't have to worry about now.
Slash and burn: Stars' Ribeiro drops Ozzie with two-hander to the chest
Kris Draper referred to it as something out of the movie "Slap Shot," something that would have drawn laughs had it not been, in fact, a real game, a real goaltender, a real cheap shot.
Chris Osgood had just finished delivering a 2-1 victory to the Red Wings, putting them up 2-0 in the Western Conference finals against Dallas, when a rare Saturday night hockey game in Detroit turned ugly. With the buzzer having sounded to end the game, Dallas forward Mike Ribeiro swung his stick from behind the net, hitting Osgood in the chest and sending him backward onto the ice.
"That's totally uncalled for," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "He two-handed Ozzie right in the chest. I think he should be suspended for doing something like that."
The Stars suggested it was in retaliation for Osgood possibly butt-ending Ribeiro.
"A butt-end to somebody's face at any time is pretty gutless," Dallas goalie Marty Turco said. "Just sticking your knob out there is a dangerous play. I've caught guys, my own teammates, around the net, and I've seen guys get major injuries to the face. It's something our game doesn't need if that did happen."
Osgood said he didn't knowingly hit Ribeiro.
"I was just trying to stand out there to make sure Nicklas Lidstrom didn't get run, because I could see two guys coming," Osgood said. "Just standing my ground with it. Whether I hit him or not, it was an accident. He probably skated through my stick and that would be it. I don't think that justified a two-hander over the top of the net. He could have went about it a different way or said something to me. We're professionals out there, and we can go about it in the right manner."
Ribeiro didn't talk; his coach, though, attempted a defense.
"I think Osgood thought maybe he was going to run him," Dallas coach Dave Tippett of Osgood's alleged butt-end. "And Osgood sticks his stick out. Caught Ribeiro right underneath the cheek with the butt end of his stick. Then Ribeiro turns around and whacks him, which is not right, but something ... when I saw it I said, 'Something made Ribby do that.' He's not just going to turn around, hit the goalie. That's not the way that works."
Told of Tippett's comments, Wings coach Mike Babcock was terse.
"I don't know anything about that," he said. "I don't think he butt-ended anybody. So, we'll see what happens. The great thing about it is there's always video."
Ribeiro almost assuredly will not play Monday, when the series resumes with Game 3 at Dallas.
The incident finished what was an intensely physical game, a tone set by Dallas Drake a minute into the game when he crushed Stephane Robidas into the glass to the delight of fans. Goals from Darren Helm and Henrik Zetterberg book-ended Dallas' contribution from Robidas.
The Wings lost their leading goal-scorer for this game and the next, as Johan Franzen was sidelined pending further evaluation of concussion-like symptoms. Stars forward Jere Lehtinen left the game early because of a leg injury.
The Wings persevered to win their eighth straight game thanks to another terrific effort by their penalty killers, a good all-around defensive effort, and lack of composure from the Stars.
"Dallas is a pretty clean team," Dan Cleary said. "Obviously, we've been frustrating their good players."
Minutes before the Ribeiro incident, Draper took a punch to the head from Steve Ott after a drawn-out battle over a face-off. That was one thing; the two-hander to Osgood, quite different.
"I wasn't sure what he was thinking," Draper said of Ribeiro. "It's an intense series, there's a lot on the line, but that's just crossing the line. He swung from behind the net, a two-hander, right at Ozzie.
"Something like that, that's right out of 'Slap Shot.' It was intent to injure on our best player. Couldn't believe it when he did it."