|Paul Pierce, left, of the Boston Celtics defends against LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers [EPA]
An inspirational LeBron James scored 38 points to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to an emphatic 98-83 home victory over the NBA champion Boston Celtics.
The All-Star forward filled out the stat-sheet with seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocks as Cleveland improved their league-best record to 29-6.
"I don't think we needed to win tonight to let teams know we're a confident bunch of guys," said James, who finished 13-for-25 shooting from the field and scored 23 second-half points to keep the Celtics at bay.
"We just want to continue to play well and protect our home court and we did that once again."
The struggling Celtics (29-9) were led by Kevin Garnett, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds, but could not prevent his team from losing for a fourth straight game and for the seventh time in the last nine contests.
Last season, the Celtics defeated the Cavaliers 4-3 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-finals, but an improved Cleveland appears ready to lay claim to the conference crown.
Mo Williams, acquired in the off-season to provide the team with added scoring, had 13 points while Anderson Varejao had 14 and nine rebounds as the Cavaliers lifted their perfect home record to 19-0.
Boston trailed the entire game but pulled to within 61-56 with 2:48 left in the third.
Cleveland closed the quarter with an 11-4 spurt and never looked back.
"I thought when they made a run we responded defensively," said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, whose team recorded 14 steals and seven blocks while holding the Celtics to 41 percent shooting.
|All hands on deck for a loose ball [EPA]
Ray Allen had 12 points and Paul Pierce added 11 but shot just 4-for-15 for the Celtics, who looked a shadow of the team that started the season in such fine style.
Boston blazed out to a franchise-best 27-2 start this year, including a 19-game winning streak, but have sputtered since a setback against the Los Angeles Lakers and have now dropped to third place in the Eastern Conference.
"We're good man.
"I am telling you the truth," Pierce said.
"The mood is real positive.
"We are going to get through this tough stretch."