7:00 PM ET, March 29, 2006
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
And he wasn't even a Cavaliers fan.
"I was a Bulls fan -- all Michael Jordan back then. I'm all Cavs now," James said.
James helped end the NBA's third-longest playoff drought by scoring 46 points in a 107-94 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, clinching Cleveland's first postseason berth since 1998.
The league's brightest young star will be playing in late April for the first time in his three years with the Cavaliers. James said he was pleased, especially after missing the playoffs by one game last season.
"I've always felt since I was drafted here that I was going to light it up like Vegas," James said. "I said that on Day One once I got drafted. It's been slow progress, but it takes a few years to put a building up in Vegas, too."
The Cavaliers were low-key about their accomplishment, leaving the court without celebrating.
"We have bigger goals than that," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "If the fans want to celebrate and the city wants to celebrate, that's fine. We expected to be in the playoffs."
Only the Warriors and Clippers have had longer current absences from the postseason. Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the only remaining player from the 1997-98 playoff team, other than general manager Danny Ferry who was a reserve on that squad.
Against the Mavs, James was relentless driving to the basket and made several spectacular dunks. He shot 16-of-23 and 4-of-7 from 3-point range, adding five rebounds and four assists as he led the Cavaliers to their sixth straight win.
He was still in the game long after the score was out of reach, and took a couple vicious fouls before finally leaving to a standing ovation with 2:18 left.
"Before the game started I pulled him to the side and said, 'Tonight you solidify your legacy," Cavaliers forward Donyell Marshall said. "A lot of people say he's not going to be a legit star until he makes the playoffs. You clinch it tonight what else can they say. Only thing they can hold him to now is a championship."
The Mavericks (54-18) fell 1½ games behind San Antonio for the best record in the Western Conference and home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
"I still think this can be a special season, but right now we are sputtering," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said.
Cleveland trailed by one at halftime and opened the third quarter with a 9-0 run, capped by Drew Gooden's three-point play to go up 57-49.
|Player||First made playoffs||Result||Playoff PPG|
The Cavaliers never looked back as James scored 19 in the third. He was fouled while hitting yet another layup with 0.7 seconds left, inspiring Brown to pump his fist on the sideline. James hit the free throw for an 83-65 lead.
"LeBron just took over like he always does," said Ilgauskas, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Dallas made James pay for his points with two flagrant fouls.
Erick Dampier hammered James as he drove baseline to the rim with 4:59 left in the third quarter. James was a bit slow getting up, but hit his free throws and came right back inside on the next possession, scoring on a three-point play for a 73-59 lead.
Then Didier Ilunga-Mbenga hit James in the head with 7:35 left, knocking his headband off and slamming him to the floor.
"They don't know I was a football player first. I can take those hits," said James, who was an all-state wide receiver at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, but quit after his junior year to focus on basketball.
"Those were nothing compared to football hits."
Ilgauskas responded with a hard foul on Jason Terry.
"'Z' hit their guy too. He was protecting me and I like it," James said. "I took a couple shots to the head -- so I'm going to go take a Tylenol and have some fun with my teammates."
The Cavaliers' 35-point third quarter was in stark contrast to the eight points they scored in the period at Dallas on March 14 while blowing 19-point lead.
The Mavericks looked sluggish in the second half a night after losing at Detroit. Seven of their 18 losses have come in the second game of back to backs.
Cleveland (42-29) matched its win total from last season and is 13 games over .500 for the first time since its last playoff season.
"We don't want to just make the playoffs. We want to go deep into the playoffs," said Marshall, who scored 12. "We're still fighting for home court advantage."
The Cavaliers' magic number is eight to clinch the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
James became the youngest in NBA history to score 6,000 points at 21 years and 89 days. Kobe Bryant was the previous youngest at 22 years and 206 days. ... James has 2,215 points this season, breaking the Cavaliers single-season record that he set last season with 2,175. ... The Mavericks are 6-12 when allowing at least 100 points. ... The loss marked on the second time the Mavericks have dropped two straight since Johnson became coach in March 2005. "This team doesn't like losing one in a row," he said.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||29-67 (.433)||37-80 (.463)|
|3PM-3PA||2-14 (.143)||9-19 (.474)|
|FTM-FTA||34-41 (.829)||24-27 (.889)|
|Fast Break Points||4||13|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||21 (1/2)||27 (2/0)|