CLEVELAND -- In the locker room at halftime, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown forced his players to watch a horror flick -- highlights of their defense in the first half.
"We were watching film and it was as ugly as it looked," Mo Williams said.
"The first team that decided to defend in the second half was going to get the win," Brown said. "And we did. The first half was a rat race. R-A-T, R-A-C-E."
LeBron James scored 22 points, most of them coming with good buddy Carmelo Anthony guarding him, and Williams scored a season-high 24, making a critical 3-pointer with James on the bench, as the Cavaliers improved to 5-0 at home and beat the Nuggets for the first time since 2005.
"It looked like it was headed in the wrong direction in the first half, but we buckled down in the second and got it together," James said.
James had lost his past five games against Anthony, whom he has known since high school, and is now just 3-8 against his U.S. Olympic teammate since they broke into the league together in 2003. James added 11 assists and eight rebounds, and for the moment owns bragging rights over Anthony.
"Any time I play LeBron and we play Cleveland it's a fun game." Anthony said. "That's the way it is, there's so much hype around the game. I don't want to say they were the better team, but they executed down the stretch."
Daniel Gibson snapped out of a shooting slump and added 15 points for the Cavaliers, who held the Nuggets to 18 points in the fourth on 39 percent shooting.
Billups scored a season-high 26 points -- 16 in the first quarter -- Anthony had 18 and Kenyon Martin 12 with 10 rebounds for Denver. Martin, who had missed the previous two games with a sprained wrist, was ejected with 55 seconds left after he was called for a flagrant-2 foul for slamming his shoulder into Cleveland forward Anderson Varejao.
Before leaving the floor, Martin, who was whistled for a technical moments earlier, screamed obscenities at referee Joey Crawford before he was grabbed by Nuggets coach George Karl and escorted off.
"I don't think it was much of a foul," Karl said. "It's frustrating. Sometimes you don't understand what standard they are calling. Kenyon gets the bad end of those calls most of the time. I thought he was just busting and playing hard."
Martin was reluctant to discuss the incident.
"I didn't get an explanation," he said. "It's basketball. Basketball is a contact sport. It's not bowling or table tennis."
With the Cavaliers leading 94-85, James was replaced with 8:23 remaining. Denver hit a pair of 3-pointers to pull within 98-91, but Williams made a jumper and then dropped a 3-pointer with 5:53 to give Cleveland a 103-91 lead. As Williams' ball was in the air, James walked onto the floor extending three fingers on both hands. He then ran over, jumped and bumped his new teammate, whom the Cavs acquired in a trade this summer to make such shots.
"That's my role when he (LeBron) is out of the game, scoring, finding guys, just making something happen," Williams said. "We will get more comfortable when LeBron is not in and we have to contribute. We have to sustain the lead or go on a run while he is getting a rest."
James' flurry in the final 1:35 of the third quarter gave the Cavaliers an 88-81 lead entering the fourth.
First, he drove the lane and dropped an off-balance layup while being fouled by Anthony. He completed a three-point play to make it 83-81, and after JR Smith hit a 3-pointer for Denver, James set up Gibson on the wing and the Cavs guard, who missed all six 3s on Tuesday against Milwaukee, finally knocked down a long-range shot.
Brown was confident Gibson would find his touch eventually. Before the game, Brown was asked what he might tell his guard.
"Shoot, Boobie, shoot," Brown said in a high-pitched voice.
There was no need for a 24-second shot clock in the first quarter as the teams combined for 69 points while playing at a dizzying pace reminiscent of the old ABA in the 1970s, when defense was nothing more than a rumor.
Billups scored 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter, and the Nuggets went 5-for-5 on 3-pointers and shot 74 percent (14-of-19) from the floor.
- Cleveland's Ben Wallace had a season-high 11 points but sat out the fourth with a bruised left knee.
- James, who had scored exactly 41 points in each of Cleveland's past four games, became the first player to score at least 40 points three times in his team's first eight games since Michael Jordan in 1991.
- Karl has been thrilled with Billups. "Chauncey has been wonderful," Karl said. "He's fit in very well. I think things will improve even more as time goes and once we all adjust. We're moving the ball well and getting everyone involved."