JOHN BAZEMORE / AP Enlarge
ATLANTA - The Cleveland Cavaliers had every reason to fold. Four of their top seven scorers were sidelined by injuries. This was the second of back-to-back road games.
But LeBron James stepped up as expected. Damon Jones hit two huge shots down the stretch. And journeyman Ira Newble had his best game of the season.
James scored 26 points despite a sore thumb, and Newble chipped in with a season-best 18 to help the Cavaliers withstand an Atlanta rally in the final quarter for a 100-95 victory last night.
"It was a big win," James said. "Having four of our top seven guys out, we needed everybody to step up."
Trying to match their season high with a fourth straight win, Atlanta rallied for the lead on an 11-0 run, but James and the short-handed Cavaliers showed plenty of heart.
"I'll tell you, it was a tough, gritty win for us," coach Mike Brown said.
Jones put the Cavaliers ahead to stay on a drive with 3:29 remaining, set up by a pass from a double-teamed James. Jones followed with the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the corner that made it 94-89 and left him strutting in front of Atlanta's courtside fans.
James did the rest.
He slipped inside of Marvin Williams to grab an offensive rebound, then put it back in to give Cleveland a 96-91 lead with 1:19 remaining. Then, James grabbed a rebound off Joe Johnson's miss, firing a pass ahead to Newble for a breakaway dunk that clinched it with 18 seconds to go.
James also had 11 rebounds and seven assists. Afterward, he looked as though he'd just been through a fight, sitting at his locker with wraps on his right thumb and both knees, while his feet were submerged in a bucket of ice.
"LeBron was LeBron," Brown said. "He did what he does for us, which is score, rebound, and dish out assists."
Johnson led the Hawks with 23 points, while Marvin Williams added 21.
The Hawks, who trailed by as many as 14, appeared to have Cleveland on the ropes with those 11 straight points. Josh Smith went in for a thunderous jam, was fouled, and finished off the three-point play that gave Atlanta an 85-84 lead with 7:18 left. But the Hawks couldn't keep it going.
"It was a wonderful opportunity to move up in the standings, but we didn't answer the bell," coach Mike Woodson said.
Cleveland was without Daniel Gibson, who strained his right hamstring the previous night in a loss at Houston, and Drew Gooden was still unable to play after straining his right groin earlier in the week. The Cavaliers already were without Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao, both sidelined by longer-term injuries.
But Newble came up huge. He eclipsed his previous best this season, a 15-point effort against Boston on Tuesday, by hitting 8-of-12 from the field, including a couple of 3-pointers. He also grabbed eight rebounds.
"It doesn't always look the best," James said of his teammate, "but Ira is really effective."
Newble started at guard against the Rockets, then moved up to play forward yesterday.
"I have no clue what Ira is," Brown said. "I just tell him to go play."
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 17 points and 11 rebounds, helping the Cavaliers get off to a fast start. Hughes chipped in with 15 points, and Jones had 13.
Cleveland appeared to be pulling away in the second quarter. Hughes scored nine points in the period, including a 3-pointer that gave the Cavaliers a 53-42 lead. They stretched the margin as high as 13 before settling for a 59-50 edge at the break.
The Hawks missed their first five shots of the third quarter, and Cleveland made it 67-53 lead on Ilgauskas' tip-in.33.74831 -84.39111