CLEVELAND — LeBron James took a backseat role early in Thursday's Game 5 of the NBA's Eastern Conference final, knowing he needed his supporting cast to come up big if the Cavaliers were to avoid elimination.
James' teammates delivered, especially early on, and responded late — even when the Cavs blew a 22-point, first-half lead.
But make no mistake, in the fourth quarter, "King James" held court. He nearly single-handedly willed the Cavs to a 112-102 victory over the Magic, James adding yet another chapter to what's turning out to be one of the best individual performances in a conference final in recent memory.
James' triple double included 17 fourth-quarter points, as he had a hand in 29 of Cleveland's 34 points in the final 12 minutes; he finished with a game-high 37, along with 12 assists and 14 rebounds.
"I mean, this was a big game for us," James told the Associated Press. "You never want to disappoint the home crowd by not coming out and play as hard as you can. It was win or go home."
The Cavs now trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, with Game 6 Saturday in Orlando. The Magic now has two more tries to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995.
"LeBron was huge for us," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "We didn't do anything tricky, just gave him the ball and said, 'Give us some good looks, big fella' … That's what great players do. They put the team on their back."
The sellout crowd chanted "MVP" after James' signature play; with just over two minutes left and the shot clock winding down, James drove around defensive player of the year Dwight Howard, soared and scored while being fouled. That gave the Cavs an eight-point lead and fouled Howard out.
James had plenty of help. Mo Williams (24 points), who had boldly predicted the Cavs would win the tight series, hit his first four from the field.
Before the Magic could wake up it was down 32-10.
But like it has done all postseason, the Magic fought back. This is the same team that rallied to win a Game 6 on the road in Philadelphia and beat Boston in a Game 7 on its floor.
So in the second quarter, the Magic clamped down defensively, forcing turnovers. Howard, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds, Hedo Turkoglu (29 points) and Rashard Lewis (15) were the offensive catalysts.
"I think we've proven to the nation we have mental toughness and we'll fight back enough," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "But we don't need to keep trying to prove that by being down 20 points at the start of games."
The second half was a back-and-forth battle, with the Magic finding itself in foul trouble; the Cavs made 27-of-34 free throws. Van Gundy said his group has been living by its offense throughout the series, "which is dangerous."
After Turkoglu brought the Magic to within one late in the fourth, it was the Cavs' Daniel Gibson who came in to hit one of his three 3-pointers.
"They deserved to get this one," Van Gundy said. "As poorly as we played, we were still there with chances to win with about five minutes to go and didn't get it done."
ORLANDO (102): Turkoglu 10-18 7-9 29, Lewis 4-13 6-9 15, Howard 8-10 8-13 24, Alston 1-10 0-0 3, Lee 3-5 2-3 9, Pietrus 4-6 2-3 13, Johnson 2-6 2-2 6, Gortat 0-1 1-2 1, Battie 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 33-72 28-41 102.
CLEVELAND (112): James 11-24 15-19 37, Varejao 3-6 1-2 7, Ilgauskas 6-8 4-5 16, M.Williams 7-14 4-5 24, West 6-13 1-1 13, Gibson 3-5 2-2 11, Wallace 0-2 0-0 0, Szczerbiak 1-3 0-0 2, Pavlovic 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Kinsey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 38-76 27-34 112.
Orlando 18 37 24 23— 102
Cleveland 35 21 22 34— 112
3-Point Goals—Orlando 8-25 (Pietrus 3-5, Turkoglu 2-5, Lee 1-2, Lewis 1-5, Alston 1-7, Johnson 0-1), Cleveland 9-18 (M.Williams 6-9, Gibson 3-4, Szczerbiak 0-1, James 0-2, West 0-2). Fouled Out—Howard, Varejao, Ilgauskas. Rebounds—Orlando 49 (Howard 10), Cleveland 48 (James 14). Assists—Orlando 12 (Alston 4), Cleveland 21 (James 12). Total Fouls—Orlando 27, Cleveland 25. Technicals—Orlando Coach Van Gundy, Szczerbiak. A—20,562 (20,562).
Magic-Cavs draw eyes: Through the first four games of the Cavaliers-Magic Eastern Conference final, TNT was averaging a 5.2 national rating, up 27 percent from last year, when it carried the Western Conference final between the Lakers and Spurs. Orlando's 116-114 overtime victory Tuesday drew 10.1 million viewers, making it the most watched NBA playoff game in cable TV history.
Barkley speaks: TNT analyst Charles Barkley said he is still not gambling after being sued by a Las Vegas casino for $400,000 in unpaid markers, but he might again someday. "I haven't missed the gambling to be honest with you. I needed to take a break from gambling because I was losing."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.