LeBron James was in street clothes, Shaquille O'Neal was nowhere to be found and Antawn Jamison was in the locker room icing his sore knee. If they had lost, the Cleveland Cavaliers had plenty of excuses. They did not have to use one. Mo Williams made two free throws with nine seconds left and Delonte West made the kind of plays down the stretch reserved for James as the Cavs won for the first time in three seasons without their big player, beating the San Antonio Spurs 97-95 on Monday night.
Cleveland had been 0-9 since 2007-08 without James. "We had a great opportunity. Not many teams can come here and win," said Manu Ginobili, the Spurs guard, who scored a season-high 38. "LeBron wasn't playing, Jamison didn't play the second half and Shaq wasn't there. We blew a big one." Williams finished with 17 points for the Cavs, who were playing their second consecutive game without the injured James.
The NBA's reigning MVP is nursing a tender right ankle as well as other bumps and bruises and Mike Brown, the Cleveland coach, is taking advantage of a lull in Cleveland's schedule to get him rest. West had 16 points and made a steal in the final minute as Cleveland became the first team to reach 50 wins this season. Williams said: "We so often get the ball to LeBron and play through him. We did a good job of finding a way."
Jamison left late in the third quarter with an apparent left knee injury and did not return. He had an MRI scan yesterday. "Everything was fine in the first half. In the second half, it stiffened up," Jamison said. "I couldn't get the range of motion I needed. I had a slight case of this the first month of the season. It's not anything to really be worried about." After San Antonio missed two potential game-tying three-point shots, Ginobili hit a tough step-back jumper that was ruled a two-pointer. The officials checked the TV monitors to make sure it wasn't a three, and as they reviewed the play, Ginobili watched it on the giant overhead scoreboard.
When he saw it wasn't a three, Ginobili clenched his fists in disgust and spun on his heels. "The replay was pretty clear," Ginobili said. "One inch. I knew I was on the line, that's why I stepped back. I was pretty sure it was a three, but then I saw [the referee] Joey Crawford asking for a review and he looked pretty sure. "It's sad. It was a tough shot and the whole game changed." Shawn Marion scored a season-high 29 points and 14 rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks stretched their winning streak to 12 consecutive games with a 125-112 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
* With agencies