LOS ANGELES: LeBron James scored 36 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers pounded rivals Boston to regain control of the Eastern Conference on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) as Russell Westbrook’s bid for NBA history was delayed.
The titanic battle between Cleveland and Boston — neck and neck at the top of the conference — never materialized as a fired-up Cavs roared to a 114-91 rout against a shellshocked Celtics.
The win completed a 3-1 season series for Cleveland over the Celtics, meaning the Cavs would win the head-to-head tiebreaker in the event of the two teams finishing regular season level.
The victory also gives the Cavs a useful psychological edge over the Celtics as the two teams gear up for the postseason.
“We played Cavs basketball tonight. When we do that, we’re a pretty good team,” said James, who finished just four assists shy of what would have been a third straight triple-double.
All of Cleveland’s heavy hitters delivered performances to silence the home crowd in Boston. Kevin Love finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds while Kyrie Irving chipped in with 19 points.
“Obviously, we’d like to finish first in the East and have home court,” Love said. “I think tonight we put together a good string of basketball for just about 48 minutes. I felt like it had been a while since we put together a game like that.”
A second half points spree proved to be the foundation of the Cavs success, with 38 points helping ensure a 15-point cushion at halftime.
Another one-sided quarter in the third saw Cleveland race away to lead 90-66 with the Celtics powerless to halt the slide.
Really tough on us
Isaiah Thomas led Boston’s scorers with 26 points.
“You name it, they were better in every category and made it really tough on us,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “They played with more purpose, more pace. Again, you name it, they won it.”
In Memphis, Russell Westbrook inspired the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 103-100 win over the Grizzlies with a 45-point display, but was left just one rebound short of setting a new single-season triple-double record.
Westbrook, who had equaled Oscar Robertson’s 1961-62 season record of 41 triple-doubles on Monday, finished the night with 45 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.
A triple-double is the achievement of double-digit totals in three of the five key statistical categories — points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals — and is regarded as a barometer of all-round versatility.
Westbrook’s pursuit of Robertson’s mark has captivated fans around the NBA this season, and catapulted him to the forefront of the race for MVP honors.
Westbrook came within a whisker of the rebound that would have set the record in the closing seconds, only to see the ball plucked away by Grizzlies guard Andrew Harrison.
“It would have been nice if he could have grabbed the ball,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
“It bounced off his hands. I think that’s happened a lot this year where he has been close to (a triple-double),” added Donovan, insisting that the Thunder locker-room was not fixated on helping Westbrook achieve the record.
“No one really talks about that stuff… but you guys want to talk about it because it’s a story,” Donovan said. “But we are just wanting to do what we need to play well.”
Westbrook now has four more games to achieve the mark, with the Thunder due to face Phoenix on Friday in their next game.
Elsewhere in the Western Conference, Golden State clinched home advantage through the playoffs with a comprehensive 120-111 win over the Phoenix Suns.
San Antonio (60-18) meanwhile suffered a surprise reverse against the lowly Los Angeles Lakers (23-55), losing 102-95.