As he left the arena, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott smiled and accepted fist bumps and congratulations from security guards lining the hallway.
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”Coach,” one of them said, ”we’re going to talk about this one all summer.”
And probably for many more.
Cleveland got the win it wanted most.
Take that, LeBron.
Despite blowing a 23-point lead, the Cavs battled back to beat the Miami Heat 102-90 on Tuesday night, getting a small dose of satisfaction against James, the franchise’s biggest star who was making his second homecoming visit to Cleveland since bolting last summer.
J.J. Hickson scored 21, Anthony Parker scored 20 and unsung center Ryan Hollins threw around his weight for the Cavs, who were embarrassed by the Heat 118-90 on Dec. 2 – a night when Cleveland fans unleashed pent-up hatred on James, the native son who scorned them.
This time, it was James who left the floor beaten. He finished with 27 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds and had to endure another night of constant booing from fans who once cherished his every move but now view him as a bitter enemy for betraying them.
James took the loss in stride, giving the Cavs credit they deserved.
”Anytime we play anybody, we know we’re going to get the best out of them,” James said. ”They came out and played extremely well. It was a good win for them.”
It was more than that for Cleveland.
James’ departure was a crippling blow to a city that hasn’t celebrated a championship since 1964, and a region desperate for something positive to happen.
For at least one night, Cleveland rocked again.
”This was for the fans and for their support,” Cavs guard Daniel Gibson said. ”They’ve stayed behind us and this was a way of saying thank you.”
In the closing seconds, the sellout crowd of 20,562 cut loose at a victory even the most loyal Clevelander couldn’t have imagined. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who accused James of quitting in last year’s playoffs after the two-time MVP announced he was joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a poorly conceived TV special, high-fived anyone within reach.
On the floor afterward, Parker, whose last 3-pointer with 2:47 left capped a 12-0 run and put the Heat away, addressed Cavs fans.
”You guys deserve it,” he said as the fans erupted.
Later, Parker said the Cavs were out to fix what went wrong on Dec. 2.
”The first time we played them here, we were embarrassed and they took a little from us,” he said. ”This is the night that we wanted to get that back, for us, but more for the fans. That was great getting it back for them.”
James’ second homecoming didn’t begin smoothly.
He was delayed getting to the morning shootaround after his car and another following him were not allowed to enter the Cavs’ underground parking garage because he had not received clearance from his former team. James was eventually allowed in, but some in his party were not.
Gilbert didn’t miss a chance to take another swipe at James after the game, posting ”Not in our garage!!” on his Twitter page.
The Cavaliers were a different team – literally – from the one that laid down against the Heat here in December. Injuries and trades have reduced Cleveland’s roster to a shell of the one James played with and helped win 60 games last season.
The Heat rallied from a 71-48 deficit, tying it at 83-all on Mike Bibby’s seventh 3-pointer with 7:03 left. But Miami, which wasted a chance to move into second place in the Eastern Conference standings, went scoreless for 4:24, allowing the Cavs to get just their 15th win – and most lopsided this season.
Wade added 24 for the Heat, who had their winning streak stopped at five.
Cleveland shot a season-high 56 percent from the field, a number that made coach Erik Spoelstra’s skin crawl.
”We got exactly what we deserved,” Spoelstra said. ”They played harder than us. They came out with much more desperation and sense of urgency. We’re a little confused what our identity is.”
Baron Davis scored 10 points in his first start since coming to Cleveland in a trade. The Cavs also got a big lift from Hollins, who had 13 points, three blocks and played physically – something none of Cleveland’s players did in December.
Hollins stopped one of Wade’s drives with an elbow, exchanged words with Miami’s guard and knocked James’ headband off under the basket.
”I feel like if they’re more concerned about me, then that’s a good thing for our team,” Hollins said. ”That’s the way I wanted to play tonight.”
There wasn’t the same venom and hatred that shrouded James’ first visit four months ago. The crowd was energetic but not as outwardly angry toward James, who was booed every time he touched the ball. Security was extremely high, but there were no reported incidents.
The teams took turns going on extended runs in a wild, back-and-forth third quarter.
Cleveland scored 18 straight and opened a 71-48 lead, sending their fans into a frenzy and putting the Heat in a deep hole. But Miami was a long way from done as Wade hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored 10 points in a 19-1 spurt that pulled the Heat within 72-67 on James’ jumper.
Christian Eyenga’s 3-pointer with 2 seconds left put the Cavs ahead 75-67. James flung a 3-pointer from a few steps beyond halfcourt to end the quarter, a shot that was initially ruled no good but changed after the officials reviewed TV replays between periods and determined there was a clock malfunction.
After the game, the NBA released a statement saying the shot actually should not have counted, but it was too late to change the score.
James arrived at the arena that was his pro basketball home for seven seasons at 5:12 p.m. Wearing headphones and a shirt with the inscription: ”Long Live The King,” James went through security and waved to a few guards before ducking into the visitor’s locker room for the second time.
James wasn’t sure what he would be facing, but he was confident things would not be nearly as hostile as his previous visit.
”I expect the worst,” he said. ”But worse than last time, Dec. 2? No.”
He got something else he didn’t expect.
Notes: Heat F Mike Miller sat out with a bruised knee that Spoelstra described as ”slightly sprained.” Miller will be re-evaluated when his knee ”calms down,” Spoelstra said. … During a timeout in the second quarter, a fan made a 3-pointer and won $10,000. … Miami plays its next three at Washington, Minnesota and New Jersey, teams with a combined 58-162 record.