MIAMI (Reuters) - The Miami Heat got the better of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 101-91 victory in the Christmas Day return of the two-time NBA champion to his former team.
James, who was given a warm welcome by Miami fans, scored 30 points on nine of 16 shooting, with eight assists and four turnovers.
The four-times NBA Most Valuable Player returned to Cleveland in July, reuniting with the team where he made his name before moving to Miami in 2010.
Miami, without the injured Chris Bosh, started and finished the game well, with Dwyane Wade scoring 31 points, 24 of them in the first half, and Luol Deng putting up 25.
There were a few boos mixed in with cheers and applause when James’s name was announced before the opening tip-off but the true sentiment of the crowd was evident after a first quarter time-out when the Heat showed a highlight reel of his achievements during his four years in Miami.
The crowd stood to applaud and James acknowledged the appreciation by waving to all four sides of the court.
“It was cool, a lot of emotions come back,” said the 29-year-old. “I spent four years here with those guys. We put in a lot of hard work and dedication just to do the best we could.”
At the end of the game, James embraced his former team mates and had a lengthy conversation with Wade, who he had spent Christmas Eve with.
The duel between the two stars had been highly anticipated and James said it brought back memories of the clashes they had before becoming team mates.
“It brought back old times and the battles we had. Once we put up 30 against each other, it was like old times,” he said.
James also questioned why players were often criticized more for switching teams than teams are for trading players away.
He said there had been no reason for any rancor about his move back to his home state of Ohio.
“I never disrespected this city or this franchise or any of my team mates,” he said.
The Heat saw a second quarter 17 point lead to two by late in the third but, inspired by Deng and Chris Andersen, they found another gear and ran out comfortable winners.
Cleveland were without Brazilian center Anderson Varejao, who has been ruled out for the rest of season after tearing his left Achilles tendon.
Reporting By Simon Evans; Editing by Peter Rutherford