A win against the league's best team went a long way toward making LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers feel like legitimate contenders.
James scored 33 points and barely missed a triple-double as the Cavaliers, playing as well as any team in the NBA, beat the Boston Celtics for the second time this season with a 114-113 victory on Tuesday night.
With their ninth win in 11 games, the Cavaliers improved to 15-4 since Dec. 25 and handed the league's best road team just its fifth loss away from home. Cleveland also beat the Celtics here in overtime on Nov. 27.
``It definitely means something,'' James said. ``We know we can play with any team in the NBA.''
James added 12 assists, nine rebounds and five steals to pace the Cavaliers. According to Elias Sports Bureau, James joined Wilt Chamberlain (1961-62) as the only players to score at least 30 points in nine straight games against the Celtics.
``LeBron's just tough. We let him get too comfortable in the first half,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ``When you let a great player get comfortable, you're probably going to lose the game.''
In other NBA games on Tuesday night, it was: San Antonio 116, Indiana 89; the Los Angeles Lakers 105, New Jersey 90; Philadelphia 101, Washington 96; and Milwaukee 102, Memphis 97.
For a change, James, who leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring, didn't have to do it all by himself down the stretch.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 21 points, Larry Hughes had 18 and seldom-used Ira Newble had 15 for Cleveland. Also, guard Daniel Gibson made a big steal in the final minute to help the Cavs hang on.
Ray Allen scored 24 points and Paul Pierce 19 for the Celtics, who were again without Kevin Garnett. The All-Star center missed his fourth straight game with an abdominal strain sustained on Jan. 25, and is likely to sit out Friday's game in Minnesota, his first visit back there since the Timberwolves traded him to Boston last summer.
Rivers refused to blame Garnett's absence for the loss.
``We're not going to use the Garnett thing as an excuse,'' Rivers said. ``He's not going to be around for the next couple of games. I'm not going to allow them to use that.''
Pierce, too, was slowed by a flu bug that has been working its way through Boston's roster.
For three quarters, a matchup between two of the East's top teams looked more like one between two up-and-down Western Conference teams as defense was very scarce. But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, both teams tightened things up.
the first team that plays defense wins,'' Allen said. ``We never got a stop and when we did, the bounce didn't go our way.''
The Celtics, the league's top defensive team, pulled to 97-96 before James drained a 3-pointer and drove the lane before feeding Ilgauskas inside for a dunk. Gibson then scored on a circus-like scoop shot in the lane and James hit a jumper to put the Cavs up 106-98 with 4:43 left.
Boston, though, quickly cut it to two as Kendrick Perkins scored on a three-point play and Pierce drained a 3.
Rajon Rondo made a jumper and two free throws as the Celtics pulled within 110-108 with 1:48 remaining. But on Cleveland's next possession, Boston's defense was so concerned about stopping James that the Celtics let Newble, who needed four stitches to close a gash over his right eye after being elbowed by Ilgauskas in the first half, drive the baseline for a dunk.
``Our defense was awful,'' Rivers said. ``When you shoot 57 percent and lose, that's a tough one to swallow.''
Spurs 116, Pacers 89
At Indianapolis, Tim Duncan dominated the middle and San Antonio's stingy second-half defense turned a close game into a rout.
Duncan had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and backup guard Jacque Vaughn scored 16 points off the bench.
Danny Granger led the Pacers with 16 points, not nearly enough to halt Indiana's season-high seven game losing streak.
Lakers 105, Nets 90
At East Rutherford, N.J., Pau Gasol was a winner in his Lakers debut, without even much help from Kobe Bryant.
Gasol had 24 points and 12 rebounds, and the Lakers beat New Jersey despite a season-low six points from Bryant, his first single-digit effort in more than a year.
Vince Carter scored 27 points for the Nets, who trailed by only three points midway through the fourth quarter before Gasol keyed the decisive surge.
76ers 101, Wizards 96
At Philadelphia, Andre Iguodala scored 20 points and the 76ers stunned the Wizards with a 17-0 run late in the fourth quarter, handing Washington its fourth straight loss.
DeShawn Stevenson scored 19 points and Brendan Haywood had 18 for the Wizards. Caron Butler left in the third with a strained left hip flexor, the same injury that kept him out of three games last week.
Bucks 102, Grizzlies 97
At Memphis, Tenn., Mo Williams scored 32 points and led a fourth quarter rally to help Milwaukee snap a three-game losing streak.
Williams, who was 14-of-22 from the field, scored all 10 Milwaukee points as the Bucks overcame a five-point deficit in the final 2 minutes.
Miller had a season-high 32 points, while Gay contributed 21 for the Grizzlies, who lost their fourth in a row. Darko Milicic had 11 points and 12 rebounds, his third-straight double-double.

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