CLEVELAND: LeBron James’ first-quarter scoring and fourth-quarter swats were just enough to beat his former team yet again.
James had 43 points, including an arena-record 25 in the first quarter, but the short-handed Cavs battled the Miami Heat until the final seconds before falling 100-96 on Tuesday.
The Cavs were playing without Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng, their top two leading scorers, yet entered the fourth quarter shooting 60 percent. They entered the night as the league’s worst-shooting team.
They shot 30 percent in the fourth quarter and James had two huge blocks in the final minute, first a rejection of a Spencer Hawes dunk and then a block on Dion Waiters’ layup with the Heat ahead 95-90 and 28 seconds left, denying the Cavs any shot at overtime.
Between those two blocks, Chris Bosh added one of his own on a Waiters drive as the Heat defense tightened after looking discombobulated much of the night.
“I thought our defense was pretty good, played it the right way,” Mike Brown said. “They just made shots down the stretch.”
The Cavs pushed the tempo and moved the ball well despite missing Irving and Deng. Irving is out for two weeks with a strained tendon in his shoulder, while Deng was scratched with a sprained ankle he (like Irving) injured in Sunday’s loss at the Clippers.
Waiters was terrific in their absences, finishing with 17 points and 11 assists for a career high in assists and his first career double-double. He appeared to injure his hip on a shot blocked by James and watched the final seconds from the bench. Udonis Haslem also crashed into Waiters while James blocked the shot.
“I believe I was fouled,” Waiters said. “I didn’t get the call, so it’s on to the next one. There’s nothing I can do.”
Brown said he didn’t ask the officials for an explanation.
“As a coach you kind of get tired of complaining about calls,” Brown said. “We’re not going to get much help in that area. I think until you become the Miami Heat or become a winning team, you might [not] get some calls down the stretch. It’s not worth me asking them why they missed it or not. You have to move on to the next game.”
James was scorching hot in the first quarter, finishing 10-for-11. His only miss was a 3-pointer from about 27 feet away.
“I felt a good rhythm,” James said. “I shot the ball well in warm-ups and I was able to carry it over into the game.”
His terrific start allowed the Heat to build a 14-point lead in the first quarter, but the Cavs kept fighting back. A 17-3 run in the second allowed them to tie it at 40, and the score remained within six points the rest of the way.
Jack had 22 points for the Cavs, Anderson Varejao had 16 points and 11 rebounds off the bench and Hawes had 11 points and nine rebounds from the Cavs, who placed all five starters in double-figure scoring. Alonzo Gee, the late starting replacement for Deng, had 12 points, three rebounds and a couple of assists.
Bosh had 21 points for the Heat and Ray Allen had 14 off the bench, although he shot just 2-for-9 on 3-pointers. The Heat, who improved to 13-1 against the Cavs since James opted for Miami, sat Dwyane Wade to rest his knees.
The Cavs fell six games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff spot with 14 games to play.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.