CLEVELAND – LeBron James scored 43 points – 25 in a bewildering first-quarter shooting display – and Chris Bosh added 21, leading the Miami Heat to a 100-96 win Tuesday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played their first game without injured All-Star guard Kyrie Irving.
James added two crucial blocks and made six free throws in the final two minutes, and Bosh had a key rejection to lead the Heat to just their third win in eight games.
Miami’s Dwyane Wade sat out to rest his knees, but the Heat’s two other megastars picked up the slack and put away the Cavs.
Jarrett Jack scored 22 and Dion Waiters added 17 and 11 assists for Cleveland, which was also without forward Luol Deng (sprained ankle). Irving is expected to miss two weeks with a strained biceps tendon, an injury that further damages the Cavs’ fading playoff hopes.
James and the Cavs were tied 25-25 after one. He had 31 points at halftime and 37 after three quarters, but the Heat entered the final 12 minutes tied as they were unable to shake off the Cavs, who shot 60 percent from the floor through three and had all five starters in double figures.
With James content to distribute the ball, Bosh scored nine straight points to put Miami ahead 93-88 with 2:24 remaining. Cleveland cut it to three on a basket by Anderson Varejao and had a chance to get closer but James snuffed a dunk attempt by Spencer Hawes. Just 11 seconds later, Bosh turned away Waiters and James made a pair of free throws to make it 95-90 with 1:06 remaining.
After empty possessions by both teams, James blocked a drive by Waiters and Bosh split a pair of free throws, giving the Heat a 96-90 lead. Jack made two 3-pointers in the final 15.7 seconds, but both times James answered by hitting two free throws to close it out.
James improved to 13-1 against the Cavaliers, the team he left after seven seasons as a free agent in 2010.
Wade missed his first game since March 3 as the Heat continue to follow a protocol to keep his knees healthy and the All-Star guard fresh for their run at a third straight NBA championship.
James made his first six shots – four of them 3s – and went 10 of 11 with six 3-pointers from the field during a dazzling first quarter when he showed most of his offensive repertoire. He hit fadeaways, runners and a thunderous breakaway dunk. The only shot James missed came on a “heat-check” 3-pointer from way beyond the arc.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert had a front-row seat for the spectacle.
But while James was one-quarter of the way to 100 points, and the Heat had built a 37-25 lead after 12 minutes, the Cavs stormed back.
Cleveland opened the second quarter with a 17-3 run to pull even at 40-all, and the Cavs were only down 59-54 at halftime – not bad considering James’ scorching start.
It was James’ second visit to Cleveland in 10 days. He had been back on March 8, when former teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas had his jersey retired by the Cavs, who may one day raise the No. 23 James wore to the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena.
Whenever James comes back, there’s always plenty of story lines surrounding his latest homecoming and much of the pregame hype this time focused on the All-Star’s future. James can opt out of his contract with Miami this summer and become a free agent, and one of his possible destinations could be Cleveland.
Asked directly if he wants to play for his former team again, James was noncommittal.
“As of right now, it’s too hard for me to think about,” he said. “We have 20 or less games before we gear up for no sleep for two months, hopefully. So for me to try and take my mind somewhere else when I know what’s on its way is almost impossible.”