LeBron James scores 33 in return as Cavaliers lose to Suns
PHOENIX -- Cavaliers head coach David Blatt targeted a limit of 34 minutes for LeBron James in the forward's first game back from an eight-game, injury-induced absence.
But when Cleveland dissolved the Phoenix Suns' 19-point third-quarter lead on Tuesday night, Blatt couldn't help but give his star a few extra minutes.
James played 36 minutes, scoring 33 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists in the loss despite helping Cleveland erase the Suns' big lead.
"I thought I was going to run out of gas, too," said James, who had been resting knee and back injuries. "Yesterday I practiced, my lungs was burning. I was able to get my second wind today. For me to be able to come back and feel myself again was pretty good."
The shoving of Blatt away from official Eric Lewis might have been the most critical of moves on Tuesday -- that is, if Cleveland is concerned about quieting any tremors in the media regarding James' tepid public support of his head coach.
James' shove occurred during a dead ball, just after he was called for an offensive foul in the first half.
Blatt said James wasn't arguing the call with Lewis.
The head coach certainly was.
"I just got (Blatt) up out of his way before he got a T," James said, "so just protecting my coach."
Added Blatt: "I just thought my guy was taking a lot of hard hits. I didn't like it. That's my opinion and LeBron stepped in to sort of protect me in that situation, which is more than fine. But what I really wanted to do was protect him."
James returned to practice Monday, leading to more speculation he would return against the Suns. He had yet to play with the two newest Cavaliers and starters, guard J.R. Smith and center Timofey Mozgov.
Smith, acquired in a trade with the New York Knicks three games ago, kept Cleveland in the game with eight 3-pointers and 29 points.
James' return also coincided with that of former Suns forward Shawn Marion, who missed the last two games because of a hip issue.
Blatt knows implementing all the returning pieces with the new ones will be a challenge.
"Time is not something that any of us have a lot of. That's a life lesson," he said before the loss. "You've got to maximize what you can and as you can. I'm a realistic person and I know when you put a lot of moving parts together on the fly, it's not always the smoothest thing."
Maybe not, but with James doing everything from jumping like his old self to protecting his head coach, there's finally a bit of positivity -- even in a loss.
"I just thought he laid it out there," Blatt said. "That wasn't easy because he hasn't played a competitive game in eight games. I thought he was terrific."