CLEVELAND - LeBron James scored 38 points, Drew Gooden added a season-high 24 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 15 as Cleveland's threesome outplayed Boston's heralded triumvirate during a 109-104 win in overtime last night.
James, who has raised his game to another level, scored 11 points in OT as the defending Eastern Conference champions dropped the Celtics to 11-2 with one of their best all-around performances of the early season.
James added 13 assists and finished 14-of-15 from the line, including 6-of-6 in OT. He, Gooden and Ilgauskas outscored Boston's Kevin Garnett (19), Ray Allen (29) and Paul Pierce (16) 77-64.
"We don't want any tag," James said. "We don't want any Big 3 or whatever. We just go out there and do our job. Z is playing career basketball right now, Drew is getting better, and I'm going to do what I have to do for us to win, of course."
Allen led the Celtics with 29 points on 10-of-25 shooting, but missed two free throws with the score tied late in regulation.
"I feel like I let the team down," said Allen, an 89 percent career free throw shooter. "I was so surprised I missed the first one, I didn't let it go. I took it into the second one."
James came in averaging 37.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 9.5 assists in his last six games, joining Wilt Chamberlain (1964) and Oscar Robertson (1965) as the only players to reach those totals in a six-game stretch.
"He was fantastic," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "That's who he is. He hurt us as much with his passing as he did with his scoring. When he's scoring and getting everyone involved, he's a killer. That's what he was tonight."
With his team leading by one in overtime, James drained a long 3-pointer to put Cleveland ahead 99-95, and following misses by both teams, Cavs forward Sasha Pavlovic made a steal in the lane and fed James who was fouled.
He made both free throws to make it 101-95 with 54.3 seconds remaining.
Allen's 3-pointer brought the Celtics within 102-98 but James went to the line and made another pair to give the Cavs a six-point lead. Pierce's 3 cut it to 105-101 but James again made his free throws.
Allen's floater in the lane put the Celtics ahead 92-89 with 2:03 left in regulation, but the Cavaliers tied it with 59 seconds to go on Pavlovic's 3-pointer.
Boston had a chance to take the lead when Allen was fouled, but the smooth guard, who came in shooting 92 percent from the line this season, missed both attempts and the Cavs quickly called time.
Rivers was surprised Allen would misfire.
"Yeah," he said. "But I'll take those all day. We were 69 percent at the line. If we had made our free throws, we probably would have won the game."
James could have won it in the final second, but was short on a 17-footer at the buzzer.
Gooden was 8-for-8 from the field in the third quarter, scoring 16 to help the Cavs take a 74-72 lead into the fourth. After dropping his last jumper, Gooden ran down the floor and wiggled his fingers in front of his face, a gesture he calls "making it rain."
James downplayed the idea of it being a statement game.
"Nah," he said. "They are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. We are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. It's going to be a good showdown."
Rivers also dismissed this game meaning anything more than the other 81 regular-season matchups.
"Game 7s are statement games," he said.
But it was clear both teams wanted this one.
The Celtics bench spent as much time standing as sitting, and Cleveland's reserves, too, were involved from the outset. Tempers flared late in the first half when Cavs guard Devin Brown got into an exchange with three Celtics, including Garnett.
"There was a lot of trash talking out there," Gooden said. "It was like an old streetball game."