CLEVELAND -- They've got nothing comparable to Boston's rich history, roll call of Hall of Famers or the Celtics' current trifecta of superstars.
And more often than not, he's enough.
James scored 33 points and barely missed a triple-double as the Cavaliers, playing as well as any team in the NBA, beat Boston for the second time this season with a 114-113 victory on Tuesday night.
James added 12 assists, nine rebounds and five steals to pace the Cavaliers. According to Elias Sports Bureau, James joined Wilt Chamberlain (1961-62) as the only players to score at least 30 points in nine straight games against the Celtics.
"LeBron's just tough. We let him get too comfortable in the first half," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "When you let a great player get comfortable, you're probably going to lose the game."
With their ninth win in 11 games, the Cavaliers improved to 15-4 since Dec. 25 and handed the league's best road team just its fifth loss away from home. Cleveland also beat the Celtics here in overtime on Nov. 27.
"It definitely means something," James said. "We know we can play with any team in the NBA."
For a change, James, who leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring, didn't have to do it all by himself down the stretch.
Ray Allen scored 24 points and Paul Pierce 19 for the Celtics, who were again without Kevin Garnett. The All-Star center missed his fourth straight game with an abdominal strain sustained on Jan. 25, and is likely to sit out Friday's game in Minnesota, his first visit back there since the Timberwolves traded him to Boston last summer.
Rivers refused to blame Garnett's absence for the loss.
"We're not going to use the Garnett thing as an excuse," Rivers said. "He's not going to be around for the next couple of games. I'm not going to allow them to use that."
Pierce, too, was slowed by a flu bug that has been working its way through Boston's roster.
For three quarters, a matchup between two of the East's top teams looked more like one between two up-and-down Western Conference teams as defense was very scarce. But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, both teams tightened things up.
"Usually in games like this one, the first team that plays defense wins," Allen said. "We never got a stop and when we did, the bounce didn't go our way."
The Celtics, the league's top defensive team, pulled to 97-96 before James drained a 3-pointer and drove the lane before feeding Ilgauskas inside for a dunk. Gibson then scored on a circus-like scoop shot in the lane and James hit a jumper to put the Cavs up 106-98 with 4:43 left.
Boston, though, quickly cut it to two as Kendrick Perkins scored on a three-point play and Pierce drained a 3.
Rajon Rondo made a jumper and two free throws as the Celtics pulled within 110-108 with 1:48 remaining. But on Cleveland's next possession, Boston's defense was so concerned about stopping James that the Celtics let Newble, who needed four stitches to close a gash over his right eye after being elbowed by Ilgauskas in the first half, drive the baseline for a dunk.
"Our defense was awful," Rivers said. "When you shoot 57 percent and lose, that's a tough one to swallow."
Pierce's basket got Boston within two, and the Celtics had a chance to tie it but Gibson stripped Rondo and Ilgauskas made two free throws with 16.6 seconds left to put Cleveland ahead 114-110.
James Posey dropped a 3-pointer for Boston at the horn to close the scoring.
Gooden hurt himself while crashing the boards, grabbing a rebound and dunking over an unsuspecting Allen. Gooden immediately grabbed his leg in pain, told James to call a timeout and limped to the locker room.
Gooden said he expects to play Thursday at Houston.
- Ilgauskas (1,088) moved past Larry Nance (1,087) for second on the Cavs' career blocks list. John "Hot Rod" Williams is first with 1,200.
- Since coming into the NBA, James has engaged in some heated trash talk with the Celtics, whom he says are among the league's chattiest squads. "They're up there," he said. "Them and the Pistons. They talk but they back it up. Sometimes it can get annoying, but they can back it up." So who's the quietest team? "Utah," he said. "They don't say nothing, they just kick your butt."
- Rivers has a strong connection with the Cavaliers. His uncle, Jim Brewer, played for Cleveland from 1973-79. As a kid, Rivers also attended a basketball camp in Cleveland hosted by former Cavs guard Austin Carr, the club's second-leading career scorer. "I loved his shooting," Rivers said of Carr, currently a Cavs TV analyst. "It was a beautiful thing to watch."