CLEVELAND, December 3 – LeBron James, a former hero booed as a villain in a long-awaited return to the city he spurned, scored 24 of his 38 points in the third quarter Thursday to spark Miami's 118-90 rout of Cleveland.
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player gave a display of the form that once drew cheers from sellout crowds at Cleveland, hitting 15-of-25 shots while dealing eight assists and grabbing five rebounds in a triumphant homecoming.
"I know this court. I made a lot of shots on this court," James said of his 10-for-12 shooting effort in the third quarter. "I just wanted to be aggressive and keep them out of the game."
Cavaliers fans, who began by booing James when he walked on the court, when he was introduced and every time he touched the ball were eventually rendered silent by a virtuoso performance, one they knew well when it favored them.
"We know everywhere will be a hostile crowd," James said. "Seven great years, loved every part, loved every moment. As a team we tried our best to bring a championship to the city. I have the utmost respect for this team and these fans."
A city that has not had a major team sports champion since American football’s 1964 Cleveland Browns, and that put its hopes and hearts in the hands of James, watched in pain as he signed with the Heat last July.
James, born and raised in nearby Akron, made no apologies to Cleveland supporters after taking their best taunts and delivering one of his most electric efforts before being benched for the entire fourth quarter.
"I don’t want to apologize," James said. "My intentions were not to hurt anyone. The decisions I make I live with. There are always ways you could do to make them better."
Miami improved to 12-8, still far short of the dominating form many expected when James left the Cavaliers for what he considered a better chance to win an NBA title alongside fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"We came here with one goal and that was to win a basketball game," James said. "This was the most complete game we had this year from start to finish."
Wade added 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists while Bosh had 15 points for Miami, which had lost five times in a row at Cleveland against James-led Cavaliers squads.
In the seconds after the game, James walked off the bench and hugged former Cavaliers teammate Mo Williams after inflicting the worst loss the Cavaliers have suffered this season, in which they have a 7-11 record.
A chorus of boos from a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 spectators greeted James but neither hecklers nor former teammates could do much to stop the playmaker.
James and Wade each scored 14 points in the first half to power Miami to a 59-39 half-time lead, helping diminish the decibel level of the jeers by the second half.
Fans displayed such signs as "Lyin’ King" for the man nicknamed "King James" and "Witless" instead of "Witness," echoing Nike’s ad campaign that "We Are All Witnesses" to James’ greatness.
In an atmosphere typically reserved for the NBA Finals, fans booed every time their former hero touched the basketball.
"I understand it. I have a lot of love for these fans but I’m playing for the Miami Heat now," James said. "We used the adversity of this game and tried to build off it."
One fan was ejected after screaming in the face of James as security, which routinely features metal detectors, was tightened at Quicken Loans Arena.
James did receive hugs from some former teammates and the fans did cheer for the introduction of Lithuanian center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, another former Cavalier who joined the Heat in the off-season.
Fans chanted "Akron Hates You," a reference to his nearby Ohio hometown, and a group of fans sitting together wore shirts that spelled out "BETRAYED." Yet another compared James to famed US 18th Century traitor Benedict Arnold.