LOS ANGELES - The yellow foam hands came flying in from every corner of the lower bowl, sailing onto the court by the dozen in Frisbee-style arches late in the Cleveland Cavaliers' dominant victory.
LeBron James was more worried than amused by fans’ display of frustration with the Los Angeles Lakers — and he got a bit more concerned when at least one water bottle followed the foam.
Despite the fans’ surreal response to the officiating of a physical game, the Cavaliers were hands-down better than the defending NBA champions in a 102-87 victory Friday night.
“The only thing that you hope doesn’t happen is one of the players getting hit or a referee getting hit, especially by a full water bottle,” James said. “When that came on the court, it was coming pretty fast. You don’t want that to happen because it could definitely hurt somebody. Luckily no one got hurt, and that’s a good thing.”
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The fans were driven to throw up their hands — not the usual foam No. 1 fingers, but a representation of two puppet hands making the “LA” symbol in a tie-in to Nike’s LeBron-and-Kobe Bryant marketing campaign — by Lamar Odom’s ejection with 4 minutes, 4 seconds to play.
After Bryant received the Lakers’ fifth technical with 3:45 remaining, more hands took flight — along with that water bottle.
“I’ve never seen an L.A. crowd react like this before,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose bench drew a second technical for failing to produce a substitute quickly enough after Odom’s ejection.
Mo Williams scored 28 points and James added 26, while Shaquille O’Neal had five dunks among his 11 points in his latest Los Angeles return.
The Cavaliers dominated the Lakers with sharp shooting and physical defense, prompting several technical fouls and retaliation hits — and that was before the crowd lost its holiday spirit by returning their pregame presents.
“If you want to throw something, at least throw something that isn’t going to hurt,” Bryant said. “So I guess that (foam) was the best situation.”
Bryant scored 35 points for the Lakers, who had won 16 of 17 before Cleveland’s decisive victory behind Williams, James and the Cavs’ impressive interior play, which negated the Lakers’ usual advantages down low.
“We know that we can match up well with anybody,” O’Neal said.