BOSTON -- LeBron James sat on the bench, wearing a purple sweater and pinstriped sportcoat. Paul Pierce stuck around just long enough for a halftime TV shoot. Even Lucky, the Celtics' mascot, called in sick for the fourth quarter.
While both teams' top stars sat this one out, Delonte West sank two free throws with 1.9 seconds left on Sunday night and lottery-bound Boston beat the playoff-bound Cleveland Cavaliers 98-96.
"They were missing their best player and we were missing our best player," said Celtics forward Al Jefferson, who had 24 points, seven rebounds and tied a career high with five blocked shots. "We stuck in there."
Gerald Green tied a career high with 25 points and Kendrick Perkins had 12 points and nine rebounds for Boston. Larry Hughes scored 24, Sasha Pavlovic had 17 points and seven rebounds and Anderson Varejao had 12 points with eight boards for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers dropped to 3-1 without James in the lineup this season and fell 3½ games behind Detroit in the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference; the Pistons beat Miami 94-88 earlier Sunday.
"We miss LeBron. We miss LeBron every time he doesn't play. He's our guy," coach Mike Brown said. "He's just got a lot of bumps and bruises. He's got tendinitis in his knee and he, as well as the doctors and trainers, felt that tonight we should rest him."
James, who scored 39 points in Saturday's overtime victory over Chicago, was scheduled to travel to Minnesota with the team and be re-evaluated Monday.
"LeBron is the most important player on our team, so it's hard to play without him," Varejao said. "But I don't think that was the problem."
West almost missed the game, too: He was late to a meeting and dropped from the starting lineup as punishment. But he was part of two big plays down the stretch.
Boston led 82-71 early in the fourth before the Cavaliers scored nine straight points during a 15-2 run and took their first lead, 86-84, on Varejao's jumper with 6:05 left. It was tied at 90 when Jefferson poked the ball away from Scot Pollard at the top of the key and tossed it ahead to West for a breakaway layup that gave the Celtics the lead with 4:09 left.
Green made a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game, but Varejao and Hughes each made a pair of free throws before Zydrunas Ilgauskas delivered a scoop shot to make it 96-94, Cleveland. Jefferson tied it on a nice inside move, and then Ilgauskas missed another try from inside.
The Celtics had the ball for one last possession, and West made a move to the basket when he apparently stepped on Varejao's foot and fell to the ground. Cleveland was called for a foul, and West made both free throws to give Boston a 98-96 lead.
"Well, I didn't fall on my own," West said. "It was just one of my veteran moves. I drew the contact. I drew the contact and fell to the floor. The refs did a good job making the right call."
After a Cavaliers timeout, Damon Jones got off an open 3-point attempt from the right side, but it bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"I had good position and he just stepped on my foot," Varejao said. "I don't know what I can do."
Pierce missed his second consecutive game with a left elbow injury and a variety of other ailments that have him considering whether to shut it down for the season. The Celtics' only race is for the best chance at Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in the NBA lottery.
Pierce worked out on the court Sunday afternoon. He wore street clothes for the first half, changed into warmups for a cameo in a TV pilot shot during halftime and wasn't seen after that.
- Damon Blust, a.k.a. Lucky, bruised his left arm during a second-half rollerblading stunt. A sub worked the fourth quarter.
- Eric Snow had eight assists for the Cavaliers. Ryan Gomes scored 17 points for Boston.