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LeBron enjoying thrill of leading the way

CLEVELAND -- When asked to recall what he said, LeBron James was reticent at first.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers playing their fifth game in eight nights and first back home after a three-game road swing ended Monday with a crescendo in Brooklyn -- with royalty of the British and hip-hop persuasions sitting courtside, international press corps on hand, protesters surrounding the arena and "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts all rolled into a basketball game -- Tuesday's date with the Toronto Raptors had all the makings of a letdown game.

For much of the night, it appeared the Cavs' seven-game win streak would be snapped. The Raptors -- the last team to beat Cleveland before the streak started -- shot 65 percent in the first half. Toronto led by as many as 14 in the third quarter.

But then the final period came around. Cleveland's defense picked up and held Toronto to just 13 points on 6-for-20 shooting.

A double-digit deficit for the Cavs boiled down to a tie game with less than a minute remaining. Kevin Love passed it from the wing out to James, who was standing at the top of the key. He received the pass, pulled up for 3 and gave the Cavs a 102-99 lead with 48.1 seconds left.

The crowd went bananas, and so did James for a split second. He yelled something to the packed stands as he ran back toward the bench after a Toronto timeout.

What was he saying?

"I don't know," James said. "It's the heat of the battle. It was a good shot."

He knew, of course. It wasn't your run-of-the mill celebratory scream. There was a message he wanted to share.

Didn't I see you saying, "That's what I came here for?" I asked James after most of the media had dispersed.

"Yeah," James said with a smile. "Yeah, that's what I said."

He came to Cleveland to win, of course. And his 3 helped propel the Cavs to their eighth straight victory; they have been able to climb up the Eastern Conference standings after a 5-7 start. He came to further establish his legacy in the league. His 3 was extra special in that department, as it tied him with noted sharpshooter Mark Price for the most longballs in Cavs franchise history, with 802.

He came to lead the way he sees fit and to take all the lessons he learned in his first 11 seasons and apply them to a new group that he had a hand in selecting. And he's doing just that.

"I know what LeBron is here for," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "And I know why he's here. Because he wants to be. So maybe that effort that you saw and maybe what he laid out there tonight for his team and for his fans sort of speaks to that."

James' 35 points on 12-for-21 shooting, four assists, two rebounds, two blocks and two steals against the Raptors speak for themselves. Of course, added in that conversation was his breakaway, double-clutch reverse dunk -- the type of ultra-athletic play some were worried had gone missing from his skill set -- and also Kyle Lowry's 1-for-8 shooting line in the fourth quarter with James often guarding him -- the type of sustained defensive effort some were worried was starting to disappear with his 30th birthday coming later this month.

James came to Cleveland to do something remarkable. He came to create another dynasty out of dust, not by simply exerting his own talents, but by empowering and entrusting every member of the team.

Which brings us to the other unlikely star from Tuesday night: backup guard Matthew Dellavedova. If an opposing general manager were presented with the Cavs roster with all the names removed and only the heights and weights listed, the anonymous James and his 6-foot-9, 250-pound measurements would still be one of the first players the GM would be interested in. The anonymous Dellavedova, listed generously at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, would most likely be one of the last.

But those supposed limitations didn't stop "Delly" from racking up six points, five assists and three rebounds (one huge one on the offensive end) and taking two charges against the Raptors. He was the only Cavs player to play every second of the fourth quarter.

"Delly is a guy that's always been counted out," James said. "You know what I'm saying? 'He can't make it. He can't do this. He can't shoot enough. Not fast enough. Not tall enough.' One thing about it: Heart and effort will take away a lot of the things that you cannot do. I'll take a guy like that any day on my team."

To hear other Cavs describe Dellavedova, you'd think their compliments were meant for James' greatness.

"He's non-stop," Kevin Love said. "We love him."

Added Kyrie Irving: "He's incredible. He's awesome. I don't know how else to say it."

It's moments like seeing Dellavedova fearlessly guarding a pair of 6-foot-9 players in Patrick Patterson and James Johnson in the post, or seeing Tristan Thompson switch out and defend one of the league's best guards in Lowry into a tough shot, like he did late in the fourth Tuesday, that make these early-season games matter.

James came to Cleveland to build a team. Look how far they've come already.

"It's fun," Irving said after scoring just 13 points but dishing out a season-high 10 assists. "It's fun to be playing the way we're playing right now, and it's fun to be part of it."

Added Love: "We just have a good energy about us right now."

Nobody said it quite as well as Dellavedova, who captured the essence of what James' Cleveland return is all about: "I'll do whatever it takes to win. Whatever we need."