SAN ANTONIO -- LeBron James dunked over Tim Duncan with a snarl, an early statement of a rugged night. And by the time it was over, the Cleveland Cavaliers got out of San Antonio with their first win in the Alamo City since 1988.
James scored 35 points, hitting a key layup and free throw late in the fourth to help snuff a San Antonio rally and lead the Cavaliers to an 88-81 victory Friday night.
"I was 4 years old the last time we beat San Antonio," in the Spurs' hometown, James said. "I think for us to become one of the powerhouses which we've been preaching, we've got to go out there and walk the walk."
But James' night wasn't as easy as it might have looked when he powered over Duncan for the early slam and scored 15 points in the first quarter.
The Spurs, one of the most dominant homecourt teams in the NBA, slashed a 13-point deficit in the fourth down to four and might have won if not for a dismal 18-of-34 effort shooting free throws.
"I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody asked me if free throws are a concern," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. They have "always been an Achilles' heel."
Duncan finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds and scored 14 points in a five-minute span to spark the rally. But he struggled badly from the line, going 9-of-19.
"I've shot a million free throws over the summer," Duncan said. "But it's nothing like actually getting in a game, banging around and then having to calm yourself down."
James, who missed five consecutive shots in the Spurs' rally, hit the layup then made one of two free throws for an 86-79 lead with 42 seconds left. His outlet pass for a dunk by Larry Hughes, who had 18 points, finished it off.
"We showed poise down the stretch," James said. "They made a run and we were able to withstand it."
James, who scored 44 points in a game against the Spurs last season, started strong Friday night against Spurs defensive specialist Bruce Bowen.
The Spurs managed to quiet James in the second quarter, holding him to four points, but couldn't find an offensive rhythm to take the lead. Duncan and spark-plug guard Tony Parker were mostly quiet, combining for 10 points.
James finished the half with a highlight layup, again driving past Duncan for an off-balance shot that he finished with a giddy-up dance in front of the Cavaliers' bench.
"He was fantastic," Popovich said. "He's a physical specimen and that's the least of his attributes."
Cleveland led 62-56 going into the fourth. James started the final period on the bench but sloppy play by the Spurs helped the Cavs stretch the lead to 69-56 with free throws and a 3-pointer by Hughes.
When James started missing, the Spurs started their comeback when Duncan hit a free throw and a dunk.
James said he had known about the Cavaliers' long streak of frustration in San Antonio.
"I think for the franchise, it's great to get that off your back," he said. "This is a great win for us. The Spurs are the best team in the league."
The Spurs have lost only 19 times on their home court since 2003, but two have come in the last two games. The Spurs lost to Dallas in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals last season.
The Spurs, who beat Dallas in their season-opener, are in the middle of four games in five days.
"It's kind of tough," guard Manu Ginobili said. "You're a little rusty and your legs are not the same as January or February."
- Before the game, Spurs F Robert Horry spoke to the crowd and pledged to try to win another NBA championship. The Spurs lost to Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals last season. "We'd like to welcome you to another edition of the Spurs show," he said.
- The Spurs signed G/F James White on Friday. White averaged 3.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in eight preseason games with Indiana. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.