Cavs beat Hawks, move to eighth place in Eastern Conference

If NBA season ended today, Cleveland would claim the eighth and final playoff berth in the conference

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2004

ATLANTA - LeBron James slumped in a chair in front of his locker, wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and a run-down expression.

"I'm so tired I can't get dressed," he said to no one in particular.

Imagine how the Atlanta Hawks felt?

James had 34 points - his 10th game this season with more than 30 - and made three free throws in the final minute to help the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Hawks 108-102 Monday night.

The Cavaliers won their fourth in a row to take a half-game lead over idle Miami and Toronto for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. After a trip to Toronto on Wednesday night to play the Raptors, Cleveland returns home for five straight.

"We needed this win," James said. "We've been doing everything the last two weeks."

Juneau-Douglas High School alum Carlos Boozer added 25 points and 11 rebounds and Jeff McInnis had 14 points and 10 assists for the Cavs.

Stephen Jackson scored a career-high 30 points and Chris Crawford finished with 25 for the Hawks, who lost for the fifth time in six games.

"Whether it's rebounding or taking care of the ball or making shots, we have to take care of business," Atlanta coach Terry Stotts said. "We lost to a playoff-caliber team, but we fought hard to get back and that's a credit to our players."

The fourth quarter featured 11 lead changes and six ties before Cleveland pulled away, thanks mostly to James. He made a layup to give the Cavaliers the lead for good at 101-100, then added his free throws.

"I have to be aggressive on offense," James said. "That's what the team needs."

On the defensive end, he helped force a turnover by Atlanta point guard Jason Terry, then leaped high to pull down the rebound after Jackson missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds with the Hawks down by four.

James also drew a flagrant foul on Jackson in the second quarter. After he rebounded his own miss, James went up for a putback, but Jackson shoved him hard into Atlanta center Jason Collier.

James jumped up to face off with Jackson, but the rest of the Cavaliers quickly came to the defense of their young star. Boozer, who was on the bench, said something to incite Jackson, who ran over and had to be restrained.

After the game, Jackson wasn't available to reporters, and Boozer downplayed the incident.

"That's something he did just to try to fire his team up," Boozer said of Jackson. "He did a good job of it, too."

Later, when Jackson was called for a technical foul, he again stood near the Cleveland bench, but Cavs coach Paul Silas patiently talked to him and patted him on the back. There were no further problems.

The Cavaliers jumped on Atlanta early, just as they did last week in Cleveland. In that one, they led by 17 points after the first quarter and cruised to a 112-80 victory.

This time, a 26-9 run helped them take a 19-point lead heading into the second period, but the Hawks finally showed some life after the margin grew to 20. Down 41-21 with 8:40 left in the half, they outscored Cleveland 30-9 the rest of the way, mostly against the reserves for the Cavaliers.

"Fighting back takes a lot out of you," Crawford said. "They kicked our butt up in Cleveland, and in the first quarter they did whatever they wanted to do."

Boris Diaw started the rally with a 3-pointer - only his third in 19 attempts this season - and Cleveland made only three of 15 shots in the quarter. James struggled just as his teammates did, finishing 1-of-6 in the second.

"We got a big lead, but any home team in the league will make a run," James said. "And we knew that was going to happen. We just regrouped and had a strong second half."



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