CLEVELAND — Out of timeouts, LeBron James had no choice but to hurry up the floor. With the clock ticking down, James tried to dribble behind his back and had the ball — and game — bounce away.
The San Antonio Spurs stopped him again.
Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw scored 19 points apiece and the defending NBA champions beat Cleveland for the 10th straight time with a 92-90 win over James and the Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Manu Ginobili scored on a layup with 18 seconds left, made a free throw with 9.1 to go and harassed James into his costly turnover with 1.9 seconds remaining. It was the first meeting between San Antonio and James since last June, when the Spurs overpowered the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
"I went behind my back and just lost it," James said of his last turnover. "That's how the ball rolls sometimes."
Anderson Varejao scored 23 points, Kyrie Irving added 20 and James had 15 for the Cavs, who fell to 5-5 and aren't rolling the way most predicted.
James was just 6 of 17 from the field, Kevin Love went 4 of 12 and Cleveland's bench contributed 17 points.
After Ginobili missed his free throw, James charged forward with both Duncan and Ginobili blocking his way. As the crowd roared, James appeared to be headed toward a game-tying or winning basket, but it didn't go the way he planned.
Not much has so far in his homecoming season.
Still, the four-time MVP felt the Cavs, who are suffering growing pains under first-year coach David Blatt, improved.
"This is a game I'm happy about," James said. "I hate to lose, but I'm happy about the progress we made tonight."
Ginobili felt fortunate that James didn't drive past him.
"I tried to make him change direction," Ginobili said. "Then I was going to chase him. I think it was a bad move by me. I should have run backwards. It's not that easy. He's so quick. He's so amazing. I just was there."
James insisted the game would not be a "measuring stick" for the Cavs, who are still trying to figure things out in the first weeks of the season. He warned it would take time for Cleveland to jell as a team and, as usual, James is dead on.
Cleveland hasn't beaten San Antonio since March 8, 2010, during James' first stint with the Cavs.
Following Monday's loss to Denver, James warned his teammates they'd better not come out flat or they would be embarrassed by the Spurs, whom he called "the Patriots of the NBA." Cleveland was ready, and with James on the bench with three fouls, Irving buried two straight 3-pointers and scored eight in a row to give the Cavs a 47-36 lead.
James said Cleveland's early struggles remind him of the 9-8 start he had in Miami four years ago.
"We've got to continue to play, continue to watch film, continue to go over situations, continue to be in situations and you learn from it," he said. "I think we learned from the game Monday and we came with a defensive mindset that we haven't had this year against a very, very good team — a great team."
MORE THAN A GAME
Ginobili admitted this wasn't just another regular season contest.
"It was a big game," he said. "First, it was on the road. And they're one of the best teams in the league. They're scary when they get hot. Some shots you see from Kyrie you say, 'How the hell did he do it?' LeBron attacks the rim and Kevin Love can get hot. A game like this will help him. They're a new team."
Not known for his defense, Irving did a solid job on Tony Parker, who scored just eight points on 2 of 7 shooting.
"He played the best defensive game I've seen him play all season," Blatt said. "He took the challenge."
Spurs: Coach Gregg Popovich believe the Cavs will get it together. "The Cavs, what you see now, you can multiply by two or three," Popovich said. "They're going to be one hell of a team. It's a new system, new bodies. It doesn't happen quickly. I'm glad we're playing them now. They're going to be a whole lot tougher later on in the year." ... F/C Matt Bonner sat out with a stomach bug. ... Spurs G Marco Belinelli missed his eighth straight game with a strained right groin.
Cavaliers: James is averaging 33 points in Cleveland's wins, 19 in the losses. ... Blatt's rotations and substitutions remain works in progress as he learns more about his team and the opposition. ... Indians pitcher Corey Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young Award last week, was honored during a timeout in the first quarter. Kluber received a nice ovation and No. 28 Cavs jersey.
Spurs: At Minnesota on Friday.
Cavaliers: At Washington on Friday.
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