CLEVELAND --(AP) LeBron James had a nasty head cold. The New Jersey Nets had a bigger headache.
Cleveland's defense kept New Jersey's Big 3 from getting into an offensive flow and James sniffled his way to 21 points as the Cavaliers opened the Eastern Conference semifinals with an 81-77 victory over the Nets on Sunday.
The Cavaliers came in well rested after their four-game sweep of Washington in the first round, and they needed every ounce of energy to hold off the Nets, who pulled within 79-77 on Vince Carter's two free throws with 19.5 seconds left.
But James, who came down with a cold during Cleveland's time off, scored on a tough drive to put Cleveland up by four, and on New Jersey's final possession, the Cavaliers never allowed the Nets to get a good look at the basket.
There were hands in faces and bodies banging bodies, the type of defense Cavs coach Mike Brown has been preaching to his team all season.
Cleveland held New Jersey to 37 percent shooting and outrebounded the Nets 51-37.
Larry Hughes added 17 points and Sasha Pavlovic a playoff career-high 15 for the Cavs, who will host Game 2 on Tuesday night.