BOSTON (AP) — LeBron James had 36 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and the Cleveland Cavaliers ran past the Boston Celtics 114-91 on Wednesday night to move back into first place in the Eastern Conference.
The teams had identical records entering their final regular-season matchup, but Cleveland (51-27) now has a one-game lead over Boston (50-28) with only four games to play. Cleveland also holds the tiebreaker with the Celtics for the top seed, if needed.
Kyrie Irving added 19 points and five assists.
The Cavaliers played without starting center Tristan Thompson, who was out with a sprained right thumb. But they made due without him, surging at the start of the second quarter and taking as much as a 29-point lead in the third quarter. They also outrebounded Boston 51-38.
Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 26 points.
James’ output has increased noticeably over the last week as the regular season winds down. He entered Wednesday coming off back-to-back triple doubles in Sunday’s double-overtime win against Indiana and a blowout win over Orlando Tuesday, while logging 89 minutes over those two games.
He played another 39 minutes Wednesday, finally going to the bench with 4:04 remaining.
The Celtics came out of the gate stale offensively. Thomas went 5 of 9 from the field in first quarter, while the rest of his teammates were just 3 of 12.
Cleveland seized on Boston’s sluggishness at the start of the second quarter, outscoring the Celtics 22-4 over the first 6:40 of the quarter.
James was active on both ends during the run, exploding to the rim for several easy baskets. He also did it on the defensive end, notably stuffing Marcus Smart with a two-handed block.
Even with Thompson out, this was the healthiest Cleveland team Boston had seen since the teams’ first meeting in November.
Trade acquisition Kyle Korver recently returned to action from a sore left foot and J.R. Smith was back after missing nearly three months following thumb surgery. Kevin Love is also back in the fold after he underwent a knee operation.
The Celtics are going in the opposite direction on the injury front, with Avery Bradley playing Wednesday despite dealing with stomach issue that had sidelined him for two straight games and Jae Crowder playing through a sore left elbow.
Cavaliers: It was James’ 22nd 30-point game. … Won for just the second time this season on the second night of a back-to-back (were 1-9 entering Wednesday). … Thompson’s absence ended his streak of consecutive games played at 447 — the longest in team history and the longest active streak in league.
Celtics: It was just their third 20-point loss this season. … Were just 7 of 33 from the 3-point line. … Shot just 8 for 22 in the second quarter.