CLEVELAND - For one night, losing LeBron didn't hurt so bad.
After nearly four months of emptiness, anger, and worry, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned to the floor and realized they can still win.
Maybe they're going to be OK after all.
Playing their first game in seven years without LeBron James, the Cavaliers stunned the Boston Celtics 95-87 in their season opener Wednesday night, a win that gave heartbroken Cleveland fans reason to believe that life will be fine minus the two-time MVP.
"This was for the city," forward Antawn Jamison said. "It was for the fans to let them know the Cavs will survive and this is a place where you can still watch good basketball. And most of all, you can watch a team that wins."
J.J. Hickson scored 21 points, Daniel Gibson added 16 - all in the second half - and the Cavaliers made several big, clutch plays in the closing minutes to hold off the Celtics, who defeated James and the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
Rajon Rondo scored 18, Paul Pierce 13, Ray Allen 12, and Kevin Garnett had 15 rebounds for Boston, which led by 11 points in the third quarter but shot only 6 of 16 and was outscored 27-14 in the fourth.
"We took them a little bit too lightly," said Shaquille O'Neal, who spent last season with Cleveland.
Gibson, who missed his first eight shots, made four free throws in the final 17.2 seconds for Cleveland.
"Guys in this locker room believe," said Jamison, who joined the Cavs last season thinking he could win a title with James. "We've been listening to what people are predicting for us. We're going to let our game do the talking. It's probably going to take a month or so for people to realize, 'Hey, this is a team that can win and compete for the playoffs." '
As the final seconds ticked off, Cleveland fans jumped for joy, owner Dan Gilbert pumped his fist and hugged those sitting near him, first-year coach Byron Scott smiled and confetti fell from the ceiling of Quicken Loans Arena like it did so many times while James was around.
All night, the Q quaked.
"It felt like Game 7 of the finals," said Cavs guard Ramon Sessions, who scored 14 and started in place of injured Mo Williams. With the score tied 86-all, Cleveland's Anthony Parker drilled a 3-pointer with one tick left on the 24-second shot clock. Boston got a tip-in from Glen Davis, and during a timeout, the officials reviewed Parker's shot and determined it was a 3.
Afterward, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said about the the Cleveland fans: "We're the most popular team in Cleveland right now, beating Miami and losing to the Cavs," said Rivers, who praised the Cavs. "That's what the Cleveland fans want to see. This is blue-collar town. This team will fit them very well."41.50436 -81.69046
For one night, losing LeBron didn't hurt so bad. After nearly four months of emptiness, anger, and worry, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned to the floor and realized they can still win.