Fans throw foam on court in Lakers' loss to Cavs

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Mo Williams, left, and forward LeBron James (23) watch as fans throw foam hands onto the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers , Friday, Dec. 25, 2009, in Los Angeles. The Cavaliers won 102-87. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Mo Williams, left, and forward LeBron James (23) watch as fans throw foam hands onto the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers , Friday, Dec. 25, 2009, in Los Angeles. The Cavaliers won 102-87. (AP Photo/Lori Shepler)
By Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer / December 26, 2009

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LOS ANGELES—Until the foam started flying, the Cleveland Cavaliers had everything under control while dealing the defending NBA champions a loss they should remember until summer.

And not even the slightly surreal sight of frustrated Los Angeles fans chucking dozens of freebie foam hands on the court could dampen an encouraging 102-87 victory over the Lakers for LeBron James and his Cavs on Friday.

"It wasn't about sending a message to them," said James, who scored 26 points. "It was about sending a message to ourselves and seeing how we match up with the best team in the NBA at this point. It was a good road win for us. I think it ranks up there, just because of the caliber of the team and the caliber of the players they have."

Mo Williams scored 28 points in another standout effort for the Cavaliers, while Shaquille O'Neal had five dunks among his 11 points in his latest Los Angeles return. Cleveland dominated the Lakers with sharp shooting and physical defense that infuriated the Lakers into five technical fouls and several retaliatory hits -- and that was before the crowd lost its holiday spirit by returning its pregame presents.

The fans threw dozens of yellow foam 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 -- after Lamar Odom's ejection with 4:04 to play and a subsequent T on the Los Angeles bench for failing to produce a substitute quickly.

"I've never seen an L.A. crowd react like this before," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I like their enthusiasm. I didn't like their demonstrative act. It wasn't a well-refereed game, it wasn't a very well-played game ... so I think it was a reaction to that."

After Kobe Bryant received the Lakers' fifth T with 3:45 left, more fans threw up their hands -- along with at least one bottle full of water, which skittered between the players without hitting anyone.

"It'll be interesting to see what happens in the future with the NBA, where that can't take place," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "I don't know what the roles are. When water bottles start flying, does it mean it's a tech, or what? But it's a scary thing when water bottles and other objects start coming on the floor like they did today."

The theatrics ended there, and the Cavaliers finished making certain nobody will forget about them in the Eastern Conference race, where Boston and Orlando have dominated the discussion leading up to the Celtics' win over the Magic earlier Friday.

"We know that we can match up well with anybody," O'Neal said. "I felt that it was going to be a good test for us. The Lakers are the best team in the league, they have won it before, and they have a lot of experience playing together. We're somewhat a new group ... but today we came out and stepped up to the challenge."

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.

O'Neal's returns to Los Angeles, where he teamed with Bryant to win three titles in Staples Center's first three seasons, no longer include the obligatory questions about whether Kobe could finally win a title without Shaq, who got boos and cheers during pregame introductions.

"He definitely had a presence in the game," Jackson said. "I do know it was a factor on Kobe. (Shaq) knocked him down about four times without a call."

With Williams leading the way in his third straight impressive road game, the Cavs forced Bryant and the Lakers into their least impressive performance in six weeks. The loss dropped the Lakers (23-5) back into a tie with Boston atop the overall NBA standings.

If this was an NBA finals preview of the matchup many expected to materialize last summer before Orlando crashed the party, the Lakers should be wary. Cleveland's big men -- O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao -- allowed them to neutralize 7-foot starters Andrew Bynum, who managed just four points, and Pau Gasol, who had 11.

James wasn't omnipresent, but played well enough to force Ron Artest to foul out with 5:01 to play. Yet the Lakers didn't exactly seem worried after their fast start to the season, which has featured 19 home games and not many serious tests against the league's elite.

"It's good to be humbled once in a while," Odom said.

Cleveland, which never trailed in the final 41 minutes, streaked to a 20-point lead in the second quarter during a run that included little help from James, sitting out while Williams sparked the Cavs. James had just two points and four assists in the quarter, which he ended with a stunning half-court shot released just after the buzzer.

Los Angeles got within six points in the third before Cleveland roared away again.

NOTES: Cleveland had beaten the Lakers five straight times before losing both matchups last season. ... Fans included Sylvester Stallone, Anna Kournikova, Danny DeVito, Snoop Dogg, Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and game show host Alex Trebek.

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