With James watching helplessly from the bench after fouling out for only the third time in his career, a trio of teammates made big plays in the final four minutes as the Cavaliers held off the Charlotte Bobcats 118-114 on Wednesday to snap a six-game road skid.
Entering the night, James had been disqualified twice in 417 games in his five-year career. But after scoring 29 points, James was called for his sixth foul when he reached in on Charlotte's Jason Richardson at the top of his drive to the basket with Cleveland leading 104-101 with 3:56 left.
"I don't like sitting on the bench and not being out there for my teammates," James said. "But I think we made a big step forward."
Szczerbiak hit a jumper, Brown hit two free throws and Ilgauskas had two buckets as the Cavaliers took a 113-106 lead. Richardson hit two 3-pointers to get the Bobcats to 116-114, but Brown made two free throws with 20 seconds left to put it away.
"It doesn't happen a lot to LeBron. It doesn't happen often to superstars of his caliber," Cavs coach Mike Brown said of James' foul trouble. "But it happened tonight and our guys stayed composed and found a way to win the game down the stretch."
Brown finished with 20 points, Anderson Varejao made eight of nine shots and added 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Ilgauskas had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland. The Cavaliers had seven players reach double figures in improving to 17-22 on the road.
"They have a very talented team all the way down the roster," Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace said.
Richardson had 31 points, Emeka Okafor matched a season high with 25 and Wallace scored 21 for the Bobcats, who lost their second straight game amid questions of coach Sam Vincent's future.
With the Bobcats out of the playoff picture, part-owner Michael Jordan hasn't said if Vincent will return next season. And on the same day Vincent made a passionate plea to keep his job, the Bobcats couldn't take advantage of James' absence.
"We want to finish up the season strong. We want to build on getting better as a team and getting ready for next year," said Richardson, who added six rebounds and seven assists. "We played a tough game tonight, but we still didn't get the win."
Early on, James wowed the crowd which included Davidson guard Stephen Curry. James was so impressed with Curry's torrid streak during the NCAA tournament he attended Davidson's upset win over Wisconsin last week in Detroit, when Curry scored 33 points.
Curry returned the favor by watching James -- and even wore a pair of James' line of sneakers.
James made four straight free throws, a 3-pointer and driving layup in a 16-4 run to put Cleveland ahead 81-72 with 3:42 left in the third quarter, wiping out an early 12-point Charlotte lead.
But James picked up his fifth foul with 8:34 left when he smacked Wallace in the face trying to get position in the post. James vehemently protested the call.
"There were a few questionable ones," James said. "I know how to keep myself out of foul trouble for the most part. In my career I've done a great job of that."
With James on the bench, the Bobcats tied it on Richardson's jumper with 5:25 left.
Mike Brown put James back in, but he lasted less than two minutes. He then watched his teammates bail him out.
"It's kind of special," James said. "The guys did a great job of not worrying about me being on the bench. They stepped in and make some big plays."
- Cavaliers F Ben Wallace sat out for the fourth time in five games due to back problems. Brown said he's being cautious with Wallace, who has been cleared by the medical staff to play.
- Bobcats rookie Jared Dudley started ahead of Nazr Mohammed, with Vincent looking for someone to counter the energetic Varejao.
- Devin Brown fell into the crowd when he was fouled early in the second quarter. He got up, only to trip over another row of chairs, drawing a standing ovation from his teammates on the bench.