If they had lost, the Cleveland Cavaliers had plenty of excuses.
They didn't have to use one.
Mo Williams made two free throws with nine seconds left and Delonte West made the kind of plays down the stretch reserved for James as the Cavs won for the first time in three seasons without their superstar, beating the San Antonio Spurs 97-95 on Monday night.
Cleveland had been 0-9 since 2007-08 without James.
"We had a great opportunity. Not many teams can come here and win," said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who scored a season-high 38. "LeBron wasn't playing, Jamison didn't play the second half and Shaq wasn't there. We blew a big one."
Williams finished with 17 points for the Cavs, who were playing their second straight game without the injured James. The NBA's reigning MVP is nursing a tender right ankle as well as other bumps and bruises and Cleveland coach Mike Brown is taking advantage of a lull in Cleveland's schedule to get him rest.
West had 16 points and made a key steal in the final minute as Cleveland became the first team to reach 50 wins this season.
"Without LeBron, Shaq and Antawn, that's the three main guys," Williams said. "We so often get the ball to LeBron and play through him. We did a good job of finding a way."
The Spurs were also short-handed, playing for the first time this season without guard Tony Parker. He's out six weeks with a broken hand suffered on Saturday in Memphis.
The Cavs may suddenly have more to worry about than just James or O'Neal, out until the playoffs after having thumb surgery.
Jamison left late in the third quarter with an apparent left knee injury and did not return. He will undergo an MRI on Tuesday.
"Everything was fine in the first half. In the second half, it stiffened up," Jamison said. "I couldn't get the range of motion I needed. I had a slight case of this the first month of the season. It's not anything to really be worried about."
A back-and-forth game came down to the final minute. With Cleveland up one, West stole a pass intended for Ginobili with 55 seconds left and was fouled by San Antonio's guard. He made both free throws to put Cleveland ahead 93-90 with 52.8 seconds left.
After San Antonio missed two potential game-tying 3s, Ginobili hit a tough step-back jumper that was ruled a 2-pointer. The officials checked the TV monitors to make sure it wasn't a 3, and as they reviewed the play, Ginobili watched it on the giant overhead scoreboard. When he saw it wasn't a 3, Ginobili clenched his fists in disgust and spun on his heels.
"The replay was pretty clear," Ginobili said. "One inch. I knew I was on the line, that's why I stepped back. I was pretty sure it was a 3, but then I saw [referee] Joey Crawford asking for a review and he looked pretty sure. It's sad. It was a tough shot and the whole game changed."
Williams' two free throws made it 95-92 and the Spurs called time to set up a play. They ran it to perfection with Ginobili passing the ball out top to Roger Mason Jr., but he missed his eighth consecutive 3-pointer and Anderson Varejao was fouled.
Cleveland's big man made both free throws and Ginobili made a 3 - the one he needed moments earlier - just before the horn.
The Spurs were excited to learn Parker will not need surgery, increasing the odds the speedy guard will be back at some point in the playoffs.
"I guess it makes me feel better," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Unhappy with his club's defense, an irate Popovich tore into his players during a timeout late in the first.
His arms flailing and his face reddening with every word, Popovich yelled and screamed from his seat. Before play resumed, he benched DeJuan Blair and Richard Jefferson and replaced them with reserves Malik Hairston and Ian Mahinmi, who entered the game having played a combined 158 minutes all season.
Jefferson drew Popovich's wrath in the second after he allowed Jamison to drive baseline and score.
"We gave away 8-12 points just because they ran it right down our throat and our transition was godawful," Popovich said. "That was the worst part of the whole game."
|Reigning MVP LeBron James rests his tender right ankle during the Cavs' narrow win. (Getty Images)|
|San Antonio (36-25)||26||26||24||19||95|
|Cleveland (50-15) «||28||21||23||25||97|
|SA:M. Ginobili 38 Pts
SA:R. Jefferson 9 Reb
SA:T. Duncan 5 Ast
|CLE:A. Jamison 17 Pts
CLE:A. Varejao 9 Reb
CLE:M. Williams 8 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|G. Hill, PG||38||8-13||5-8||3||4||0||23|
|M. Ginobili, SG||37||12-23||7-7||7||5||4||38|
|T. Duncan, PF||34||6-12||1-2||5||5||2||13|
|K. Bogans, SG||22||0-2||0-0||4||2||1||0|
|A. McDyess, PF||15||2-8||0-0||3||0||1||4|
|R. Jefferson, SF||28||1-3||1-2||9||1||2||3|
|R. Mason Jr., SG||25||1-10||0-1||0||3||0||2|
|M. Bonner, PF||19||4-7||0-0||5||1||3||9|
|D. Blair, PF||11||0-3||0-0||4||0||3||0|
|M. Hairston, SG||6||1-2||0-0||3||0||2||2|
|I. Mahinmi, C||5||0-1||1-2||1||0||1||1|
|T. Parker, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|J. Hickson, PF||35||5-12||2-2||7||0||2||12|
|M. Williams, PG||34||7-16||2-2||8||8||3||17|
|J. Williams, SF||34||6-11||0-1||5||1||1||13|
|A. Parker, SG||22||3-3||2-2||2||2||2||8|
|A. Jamison, PF||21||6-12||2-4||4||1||1||17|
|D. West, SG||33||5-13||6-6||4||5||3||16|
|A. Varejao, C||30||3-5||5-7||9||2||5||11|
|J. Moon, SF||17||0-1||0-0||1||1||0||0|
|D. Gibson, PG||13||1-3||0-0||2||1||0||3|
|S. O'Neal, C||Did Not Play|
|L. James, SF||Did Not Play|
|S. Telfair, PG||Did Not Play|
|L. Powe, PF||Did Not Play|
|D. Jackson, PF||Did Not Play|
|D. Green, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|