MARK DUNCAN / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - LeBron James put his mom and then the Boston Celtics in their places.
James scored 21 points, delivering a devastating dunk over a defenseless Kevin Garnett in the final two minutes, as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the homesick Celtics 88-77 in Game 4 last night to tie the best-of-seven series at 2.
Still stuck in a shooting slump, James dominated down the stretch and finished with 13 assists - four in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers, too, showed that they can play stingy defense, holding the Celtics - the NBA's best defensive team - to just 12 points in the final period.
"That's what we needed to do," said James, whose mother, Gloria, came to her son's defense in the first quarter after he got tangled with Paul Pierce.
Boston dropped to 0-5 on the road in the postseason, a stunning slip for a team that went 31-10 outside their home floor during the regular season.
"It's hard to say. I have no answer for it," Ray Allen said.
Game 5 is tomorrow night, and Game 6 will be back in Cleveland on Friday.
James was just 7-for-20 from the floor, but he did everything else for the Cavs.
In the final 8:45, James had four assists, a 3-pointer, and a right-handed dunk that rattled Quicken Loans Arena.
With the Cavs leading 82-75, James drove past Pierce on a screen near the foul line, head faked past James Posey, and then posterized Garnett.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," James said. "I hadn't had a play like that all series. There was a lot built up."
After a timeout, the dunk was shown on the videoboard at least six times, giving Cleveland fans more chances to ooh and ahh at a play they won't soon forget.
"He can dunk," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Especially if you give him a running start at the basket. It's probably going to be a pretty good dunk, and he's so darn powerful that once he gets up there, there's not a lotyou can do."
The Cavaliers were awed by James' stuff.
"That was incredible," Joe Smith said. "I've seen him do some crazy things since I've been here."
Although their star is shooting only 20-of-78 (26 percent) from the floor, the only numbers the Cavs care about are the pair of 2s that show this series is as tight as possible.
Garnett scored 15 points, but only two in the second half, as Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao harassed Boston's all-star all night. Allen had 15 points and Pierce 13.
"We have to play better under stress," Rivers said. "I call them 'hero' shots, and I thought we took a lot of those instead of just stressing what we do."
James missed his first six shots in the fourth before draining a 3-pointer in front of Boston's bench with 3:17 remaining to give the Cavs a 79-73 lead.
After the ball swished through the net, James made an it's-about-time shrug.
After a bucket by Pierce, James dished to Daniel Gibson for a backbreaking 3-pointer as the Cavs opened a seven-point lead.
"They shot two big threes that were daggers," Allen said.
At the other end of the floor, the Cavs swarmed all over the Celtics, giving the league's best defensive team a dose of what it usually does to opponents. Cleveland contested every shot, and even when the Celtics had open looks, they missed.
Gibson and Wally Szczerbiak added 14 points apiece, Varejao had 12 and made two awkward jumpers in the final 1:10 to put the Celtics away.
Rivers has been warning his players not to get "mesmerized by LeBron, he's good enough." The Celtics made sure James never got too far from their sights, and when the superstar got loose on a fastbreak, Pierce wrapped his arms around him to prevent a possible dunk.
The players' momentum carried them into a crowded front row, where Gloria James told Pierce to leave her baby alone.
"I told her to sit down, in some language I shouldn't have used," James said. "Thank God today wasn't Mother's Day. All I could think about is her."
James made both free throws to give Cleveland a 41-33 lead, but seconds later, he picked up his third foul and had to come out.
With James on the bench, the Celtics pounced and scored eight straight to tie it before the Cavs went to the locker room up 45-43 at half.
When Garnett dropped his first jumper, former Celtics player and current broadcaster Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell removed his headphones, rose out of his seat, and screamed, "Get down in the box," toward the floor below.
Garnett seemed to hear him as he scored nine of Boston's first 11 points, doing most of his damage from inside the lane. But with Varejao fronting him, Garnett got few other good looks at the basket in the first half and was even quieter after halftime.
NOTES: James received four votes, including one first-team ballot, for the NBA's all-defensive team. On the road, the Celtics don't go to the away arena for game-day shootarounds. Instead, they do a walk-through at their hotel. "Our guys enjoy the ballrooms," Rivers said. ... Boston fell to 25-30 in Game 4s.41.50436 -81.69046