Lakers Escape Cavs in LeBron's Return to Cleveland

The Los Angeles Lakers survived a tough battle against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday in LeBron James' first game back in Cleveland.

Updated: Nov. 22, 2018 • 12:20 AM ET

LeBron James returned to Cleveland for the first time as a Laker on Wednesday.

CLEVELAND — Cleveland Cavaliers fans have likely seen LeBron James take the court in Quicken Loans Arena more times than they can remember. Yet, they saw James in a way they’ve never previously seen him on Cleveland hardwood on Wednesday night — draped in purple and gold.

Northeast Ohio’s beloved son returned to The Q on Wednesday as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, James’ first time playing in Cleveland with his Hollywood bunch; and shocking just about everyone, the Cavs held a 99-91 lead over Los Angeles with 5:41 remaining in the game.

Over the past four years, James would have gotten the Cavs home with a victory. The King, however, was in enemy fatigues on Wednesday and scored or assisted on 12 of the Lakers’ final 18 points to help Los Angeles secure a hard-fought 109-105 win in his old stomping grounds.

“We gotta get stops,” James said of closing out Wednesday’s game. “We gotta get stops and try to get to the free throw line to be able to stop the clock, and we were able to execute both of those.”

The atmosphere in The Q was much different from when James returned to Cleveland with the Miami Heat after leaving the Cavs for the first time in 2010. That night, vitriol and anger could be felt in the air. But when James’ name was announced to the crowd during starting lineup introductions on Wednesday, he received a rousing standing ovation. And when the first timeout of the first quarter came, a video tribute to James was shown on the Humongotron.

“To come here tonight and go out and hear the fans’ reception, my 11 years playing here, I just tried to be the best basketball player, be the best role model, the best leader I could be both on and off the court, lead by example for this franchise, and they showed their appreciation. Not only for myself, for my friends and family that were at the game tonight, it was a great moment.”

James scored the first points of the night to get the Lakers on the board, but Cleveland secured its first lead when Cedi Osman drained a three-pointer that put the Cavs up 9-8. Cleveland had a surprising 28-24 lead when the first quarter ended and only increased their advantage early in the second with James on the Lakers bench.

When Cavs guard Andrew Harrison sank two free throws with 7:53 remaining in the second quarter, Cleveland took its biggest lead of the game, 37-26. Sensing the contest slipping away early, Lakers head coach Luke Walton was forced to put James back in the game. Roughly three minutes after Cleveland had secured its biggest lead, James had led a Lakers charge that tied the game at 37. Yet in still, 18 first half points from James wasn’t enough to keep the Cavs from taking a 52-49 lead into halftime.

While the Cavs didn’t take home the victory, there was a feel-good vibe in the arena.

“I appreciate these fans just as much as they appreciate me,” James said. “Every single night we stepped out on the floor, they always showed their appreciation to not only myself but for my teammates for those 11 years, especially those last four years, those championship runs that we were making.”

James finished with a game-high 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. Lonzo Ball led five other Lakers who finished with double-figures in scoring, totaling 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

With James out of town, all eyes in Cleveland are on Cavs rookie point guard Collin Sexton and second-year swingman Cedi Osman. Sexton entered Wednesday averaging 18.2 points per game in his first five starts, but finished with 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting on Wednesday in his sixth start. Osman led Cleveland with 21 points and seven rebounds, making several big three-pointers down the stretch. Jordan Clarkson chipped-in 20 points and five assists.

“Absolutely,” James said when asked if he feels for his former teammates. “Anytime you got a group of guys that you spent so much time with both on and off the floor, going through what they’re going through right now, you definitely feel for that.”

While James departed Cleveland over the summer for a second time, Cavs interim head coach Larry Drew doesn’t think the team could have done much of anything differently to keep him in Cleveland, despite James recently acknowledging that he wasn’t happy with Kyrie Irving being traded from Cleveland last season.

“I didn’t feel there was anything as far as we could have done, as far as doing more,” Drew said. “That was just a decision that a player makes when he’s in that situation. When he’s in a certain part of his career, certainly he has to look out for himself, he has to look out for his family, he has to make the best decision he feels is best suited for him. That’s what players do.

“To be perfectly honest, when he did make the decision, I wasn’t completely shocked. I know everybody was really hoping that he would return, but Bron’s a true pro.”

Now that the frenzied atmosphere of James’ return is behind the Cavaliers, Drew knows there’s a long season to go for the young Cavs.

“We recognize that a lot of people had kind of circled this date as far as LeBron coming back to Cleveland, but I just gotta make sure my guys are focused and they do what they need to do from a gameplan, game strategy standpoint,” Drew said. “We have to continue getting better in certain areas.

“We recognize the fact that certainly, this is a big night for the city of Cleveland because a hero has come back. But as far as my team is concerned, I have to make sure these guys just stay focused and do what they have to do because we’re a young club, we’re an inexperienced club and we have things that we just have to get better at.”

James, on the other hand, somehow still seems to be getting better with age.

“Back in my playing days, there was Michael, there was Magic, there was Bird,” Drew said. “Now today as a coach, you see guys like LeBron, you see guys like Kevin Durant. Those guys are special guys.”

On Wednesday night, James reminded Cavs fans just how special he is.

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