Durant v. LeBron showdown goes to James, Cavs
By JEFF LATZKE,
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) LeBron James got Cleveland back into the game with a flurry of 3-pointers. Then Mo Williams one-upped him with an even more important shot for the Cavaliers.
James scored a season-high 44 points and Williams connected from halfcourt in the fourth quarter to help the Cavs close out a 102-89 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.
Williams tracked down the ball after Thabo Sefolosha had tipped it into the backcourt, then turned and fired a 48-footer with coach Mike Brown yelling to him as the shot clock ran down. The shot earned him a look of disbelief and a congratulatory hand slap from James, and it gave Cleveland its largest lead to that point at 94-87.
“The 3 that he hit from halfcourt was spectacular,” Brown said. “When it left his hand – and I had a great view and look at it – I felt it was good.
“It’s a tribute to me being the halfcourt shooting coach.”
James wanted in on the credit, too.
“He practices with me every day on them halfcourt shots, and sometimes it pays off,” he said. “That was a huge shot.”
Williams said he couldn’t hear Brown shouting to him because he was in the moment and focused on the shot. After it went in, the stunned Thunder didn’t score again for 3 1/2 minutes as the Cavs put the game away.
“It’s definitely deflating. Any shot like that is deflating,” said Williams, who scored half of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 29 points and Jeff Green scored a season-high 26. Russell Westbrook added 10 points.
The Thunder were up 75-68 with a minute and half left in the third quarter before James scored seven straight points to tie it. He answered Durant’s free throw with a 26-foot 3-pointer that gave the Cavs the lead heading into the fourth.
“It’s tough to guard a guy who’s that quick, that strong, that’s making shots that deep,” Green said. “He’s one of the top players in the NBA. He turned it on when his team needed it the most.”
Then, when James went to the bench and Oklahoma City evened the score again, Williams took over.
James’ fellow All-Star teamed with Jamario Moon to hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions to keep Cleveland out front while James rested. After his 3-pointer from the left corner made it 91-87, the Thunder didn’t score for the next 6 minutes – including Williams’ unbelievable shot that helped the Cavaliers avoid a third straight road loss.
“It was a lucky shot, but those things happen,” Green said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. It was a halfcourt heave at the end of the shot clock that went in.”
Shaquille O’Neal, who was a gametime decision, played despite a bruised left eye suffered two days earlier against Portland. But Cleveland was without reserve Daniel Gibson for a second straight game with a sprained right pinkie finger.
O’Neal played only five minutes in the first half and picked up three fouls. He finished with five points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.
The Cavs played from behind for all but a few seconds in the first half, but James still put on a show on the way to his third 40-point outing of the season.
After he stole the ball and stumbled through a foul to convert a layup, James stopped along the baseline to snag a french fry from a boy seated in the front row wearing a Kevin Durant jersey and munch on it.
“There wasn’t nobody sitting there,” James said, explaining that he hadn’t taken the fry from the Durant fan. “The french fries had their own seat.”
He dunked with his left hand early on and had a right-handed jam off Anderson Varejao’s alley-oop pass in the first quarter, too.
Then, as he scored the Cavs’ final 12 points of the first half, he broke out a two-handed reverse slam and a right-handed power dunk.
The Thunder still took a 54-49 lead into halftime but came out sluggish in the second half for the second straight game. Cleveland pounced with a 12-4 run, including a 3-pointer and a fastbreak layup by James, to go up 61-58 before Durant had a pair of 3-pointers in a 12-2 response to put the Thunder back on top.
James answered with his 3-point barrage and then Williams came on to deliver the knockout punch.
“I can get it going every now and then,” James said. “It felt good.”
NOTES: James, O’Neal and Durant are the only three players to average 28 points through the first 21 games of a season when they were 21 years old or younger. … Thunder coach Scott Brooks and Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas roomed together during the 1997-98 season when Brooks was in his last year and Ilgauskas was a rookie. “I really appreciated that free rent. He did not charge me and he bought me dinner every night,” Brooks said. “I have too many stories on him to call me cheap.” … Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale sat courtside at the end of the scorer’s table.
Updated December 13, 2009