The last two were the difference, and it was Anthony who scored them.
The Nuggets small forward hit a deep jumper from the left wing with 1.9 seconds left in overtime to give Denver a 118-116 victory, ending the Cavaliers’ franchise-record-tying 13-game winning streak.
“It’s a great player. It’s a great shot,” said James, who had his hand right in Anthony’s face. “If I got any closer, I was going to foul him.”
James had a chance to win it for Cleveland, but slipped after receiving an inbounds pass, then misfired on a 26-foot 3-point attempt over Arron Afflalo.
That miss capped an epic second-half battle between the two superstars, neither of whom left the game after intermission.
James finished with 43 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists to become the first player to post at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists in a game since Pete Maravich in 1974. The 15 assists, which he had with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, tied a career high.
James, who also had two steals and four blocks in 47 minutes, had 35 points, nine boards and eight assists after intermission while posting his third triple-double of the season and 27th of his seven-year career. The 25-year-old was 2-of-9 from the field in the first half, but bounced back to finish the night 15-of-33.
Anthony, who was 2-of-11 from the field in the first half but finished the game 13-of-28, was almost as good, putting up 40 points, six boards, seven assists and two blocks in 48 minutes. He had 30 points after halftime.
“You want to go against the best on the biggest stage,” James said. “We both did what we had to do to put our teams in position to win. He just made one more play.”
As great as the two superstars were — James began the night leading the league in scoring, while Anthony was third — the game came down to something as basic as free throws.
The Cavaliers (43-12), who trailed by 15 points early in the second quarter, made just 23-of-40 (.575) at the line, while Denver (36-18) connected on 21-of-26 (.808).
Cleveland center Shaquille O’Neal, who was otherwise fantastic in posting 18 points on 9-of-15 shooting and seven rebounds, missed all six of his free throws, while James was 12-of-17 at the stripe.
“We missed 17 free throws,” James said. “That’s 17 points.”
J.J. Hickson added 14 points for the Cavaliers, while Anthony Parker had 13. Mo Williams, coming off the bench after missing 11 games with a strained left shoulder, scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter while playing 18 minutes on the night, two under the limit imposed by team doctors.
Denver got 18 points and 17 rebounds from Kenyon Martin, while Chauncey Billups had 18 points and eight assists.
“We want to hang our hat on what we do, and what we do is defend,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We did not do a good job of that tonight.”
With the Cavaliers down 116-113 in OT, James had two chances to tie the game, but missed back-to-back 3-pointers.
Daniel Gibson got a rebound after the first and Anderson Varejao came up with a steal after the second, however, and James finally drove and tied the game on a conventional three-point play with 23.1 seconds to go.
The Nuggets did not call timeout and Anthony, who missed his last eight shots of the first half, hit what proved to be the winner for Denver.
After the game, James’ good friend said he was thinking about “photographs” just prior to releasing the shot.
“A lot of people got some good pictures out of that moment,” Anthony said. “At that moment, I wanted the ball.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.