CLEVELAND - LeBron James was better than he had been. A little better.
But, his teammates were better than they had been - significantly better - and that's why the Cavaliers are not facing a three-game deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Indeed, James elevated his play above the levels it had dipped to in the first two games in Boston, when Cleveland was outplayed and abused. Last night, he was still looking for that monster game he is capable of.
He did not raise it as high as some of his teammates, including former Celtics Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak. The Cavaliers can thank West and Szczerbiak, as well as Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joe Smith, for their 108-84 victory over the Celtics in Quicken Loans Arena that got them back into the series (2-1), which resumes tomorrow night.
While James (21 points) shared the team scoring lead with West, he still struggled from the field, making just 5 of 16 field goal attempts to go with 8 of 12 at the free throw line. He now is shooting 22 percent (13 for 58) for the series. His teammates were a different story. They made a combined 32 of 53 shots. Four others scored in double figures, including Smith, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes.
Ilgauskas scored only 12 points, but he had eight rebounds. Ben Wallace, who was not supposed to play, had a team-leading nine rebounds and 9 points in 28 minutes. Only Anderson Varejao finished with more turnovers (1) than assists (0).
West, who played three seasons for the Celtics before being traded to Seattle, made 7 of 11 shots from the floor, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range. In 38 minutes, he had seven assists - one fewer than James's team-leading total - but he had just three turnovers.
West downplayed his performance against his former employers.
"I don't care who it is," he said in a quiet voice. "This is the playoffs and I want to do that against anyone who's standing in front of me, whether it's my former team or my mama."
Szczerbiak finished with 16 points in 43 minutes. He had 14 of those points in the first half, helping Cleveland build a lead that reached 26 points with 8:53 remaining.
"Whenever we get play like that from our perimeter, we're a pretty good basketball team," said James, who was the victim of a flagrant-1 foul by Ohio native James Posey, who clotheslined James on a drive to the basket with 9:11 left in the second quarter.
"When Delonte is aggressive, we're a pretty good team. Wally played well, too. We need them in our offense. We're usually pretty good defensively. But, it was key for Delonte to play the way he did."
James discounted his poor shooting performance.
"I am not a one-dimensional player," he said. "I do other things. I can't let my shooting affect the rest of my game."
In his pregame press conference, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said his team needed to pass the ball better than it had in the two previous games.
It seemed like his team listened: The Cavaliers finished with 29 assists after having 18 in the first game and 19 in the second.