CLEVELAND - LeBron James was in street clothes. Shaquille O'Neal was nowhere to be found, and Antawn Jamison was in the locker room icing his sore knee.
If they had lost, the Cleveland Cavaliers had plenty of excuses.
They didn’t have to use one.
Mo Williams made two free throws with 9 seconds remaining and Delonte West made the kind of plays down the stretch reserved for James as the Cavs won for the first time in three seasons without their superstar, beating the San Antonio Spurs, 97-95, on Monday night.
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Cleveland had been 0-9 since 2007-08 without James.
“We had a great opportunity. Not many teams can come here and win,” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who scored a season-high 38. “LeBron wasn’t playing, Jamison didn’t play the second half and Shaq wasn’t there. We blew a big one.”
Williams finished with 17 points for the Cavs, who were playing their second straight game without the injured James. The NBA’s reigning MVP is nursing a tender right ankle and Cleveland coach Mike Brown is taking advantage of a lull in Cleveland’s schedule to get him rest.
West had 16 points and made a key steal in the final minute as Cleveland became the first team to reach 50 wins this season.
“Without LeBron, Shaq and Antawn, that’s the three main guys,” Williams said. “We so often get the ball to LeBron and play through him. We did a good job of finding a way.”
A back-and-forth game came down to the final minute. West stole a pass intended for Ginobili, was fouled and made both free throws to put Cleveland ahead 93-90 with 52.8 seconds to play.
After San Antonio missed two potential game-tying 3s, Ginobili hit a tough step-back jumper that was ruled a 2-pointer.
Williams then hit four free throws before a Ginobili 3-pointer came too late.