CLEVELAND -- In a generous, gift-giving mood, the Cleveland Cavaliers nearly handed a precious win to one of the NBA's neediest teams.
Down by seven points in the final minutes to woeful Washington and their home winning streak in serious jeopardy, the Cavaliers clamped down on defense, made their free throws and scored 11 consecutive points in the final 1:33 to beat the Wizards 93-89 Thursday night
Mo Williams scored 24 points, and LeBron James and Delonte West had 18 apiece for the Cavs, who had to scrap to improve to 15-0 on their home floor and remain the league's only unblemished team at home.
Afterward, James knew he and his teammates salvaged what would have been a depressing holiday.
"Would have ruined my Christmas," he said.
Cleveland, which had played flawlessly at home most of this season, trailed 89-82 before storming back with three free throws by James, a 3-pointer by Williams and five more foul shots in the last 26 seconds. But none of that would have been possible if the Cavs' hadn't done it with their defense as Williams and Ben Wallace drew charging fouls to fuel the final push.
Antawn Jamison scored 28 points, and Mike James 26 for the Wizards, who dropped their eighth in a row and continue to find new ways to lose. Washington has lost 13 games it has led in the fourth quarter this season.
Some of the Wizards weren't happy with calls that could have gone either way down the stretch.
"It's tough because we had a chance to win," James said. "We're up six and the calls didn't go our way, man. But that's the way it goes sometimes."
The Cavaliers' home winning streak was as good as history when Jamison drained a 3-pointer with 1:40 left to put the Wizards ahead by seven points.
But LeBron James was fouled shooting a 3 and, after starting 3-of-7 from the line, Cleveland's superstar made three in a row from the line to pull Cleveland to 89-85. Williams then drew a charge on Jamison in the lane and then demanded the ball from James and got it before hitting a 3-pointer to make it 89-88 with 1:03 to go.
Jamison missed for Washington and fouled out 14 seconds later while battling Anderson Varejao for a rebound. Varejao, a 68 percent free-throw shooter, made both to give the Cavs a 90-88 lead, and Cleveland got the ball right back when Caron Butler was called for charging into Wallace. The Wizards had to foul and Williams made them pay by hitting two free throws to make it 92-89.
The Wizards still had a chance to tie, but Mike James, recently acquired in a trade from Memphis, missed a 3-pointer and West made one of two foul shots to ice it.
"Not a pretty one and we're not satisfied at all," LeBron James. "But we'll take the win."
During their home streak, the Cavs have been blowing teams out, but a sloppy third quarter left them in an unfamiliar position of trailing entering the fourth.
The Wizards turned nine turnovers by Cleveland in the third into 13 points and Mike James scored eight consecutive points in the final 2:40 as Washington opened a 71-68 lead, stunning Cavs fans who had been in a festive mood from the opening tip.
The Wizards-Cavaliers' holiday matchup looked great on paper before the season started. After all, the clubs have met in the playoffs three consecutive years with last season's series best remembered for Washington's hard fouls on LeBron James as well as DeShawn Stevenson's endless trash talking at Cleveland's superstar.
James hasn't forgotten Washington's tactics.
"They tried to take me mentally out of the game in the series and tied and tried and tried and it never worked," he said. "Bad plan, I guess."
Overmatched because of injuries to All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas (knee) and center Brendan Haywood (wrist), Washington is off to the worst start in franchise history and has already had a coaching change before the end of the calendar year.
As James performed his pregame routine of tossing hand chalk into the air, the sellout crowd threw packets of white confetti aloft with him, creating a blizzard-like effect inside Quicken Loans Arena. The theatrical stunt was to promote James' new Nike "chalk" shoe, one of several variations he has worn this season.
"That was unbelievable," James said of the indoor snowstorm. "I will never forget that."
The Wizards, though, weren't about to be used as props and built a 25-22 lead after one.
But with James on the bench, the Cavaliers, who have built leads all season while he has rested, went on a 20-9 run to open the second and were poised for another early blowout. Jamison wouldn't let it happen as he scored 17 points in the first half to keep the Wizards to 49-47 at halftime.
|LeBron (18 points) doesn't dominate, but he makes his presence felt in the win against Washington. (AP)|
|Cleveland (25-4) «||22||27||19||25||93|
|WAS:A. Jamison 28 Pts
WAS:D. McGuire 11 Reb
WAS:C. Butler 10 Ast
|CLE:M. Williams 24 Pts
CLE:A. Varejao 13 Reb
CLE:D. West 7 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|A. Jamison, PF||41||11-21||3-4||6||1||6||28|
|C. Butler, SF||39||3-13||0-0||6||10||4||6|
|M. James, PG||36||10-14||1-1||4||3||2||26|
|D. McGuire, PF||36||1-5||0-0||11||7||2||2|
|A. Blatche, SF||35||6-12||0-0||6||2||3||12|
|D. Stevenson, SG||21||2-8||0-2||2||1||1||4|
|D. Songaila, PF||19||4-9||0-0||3||0||1||8|
|N. Young, SG||11||1-5||0-0||3||2||1||3|
|E. Thomas, C||2||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|G. Arenas, PG||Did Not Play|
|B. Haywood, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Dixon, SG||Did Not Play|
|O. Pecherov, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Crittenton, PG||Did Not Play|
|J. McGee, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|D. West, SG||40||6-18||1-2||1||7||0||18|
|L. James, SF||38||6-13||6-10||5||6||1||18|
|M. Williams, PG||36||7-14||6-6||3||6||5||24|
|Z. Ilgauskas, C||30||1-5||3-4||9||1||2||5|
|B. Wallace, C||27||3-5||0-0||7||0||2||6|
|A. Varejao, C||31||5-7||3-4||13||1||1||13|
|D. Gibson, PG||21||2-6||0-0||1||1||0||6|
|W. Szczerbiak, SF||16||1-5||0-0||2||0||1||3|
|S. Pavlovic, SG||2||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|E. Snow, PG||Did Not Play|
|L. Wright, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Williams, F||Did Not Play|
|T. Kinsey, SF||Did Not Play|
|J. Hickson, PF||Did Not Play|
|D. Jackson, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|