CLEVELAND — The elbow’s fine.

Hours before receiving his second straight MVP award, LeBron James scored 35 points and Mo Williams added 20 as the Cleveland Cavaliers, outplayed for most of the game, stormed back to beat the Boston Celtics 101-93  in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday night.

James, playing with a sprained and bruised right elbow, delivered yet another memorable performance as the Cavs withstood a furious punch from the Celtics, who led by 11 in the third and seem intent on making this a long series.
James, who also had seven rebounds and seven assists, drained a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left to put Boston away.

Rajon Rondo had 27 points and 12 assists, and Kevin Garnett finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who were held to 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Game 2 will be Monday night.

For three quarters, the Celtics looked like their old selves.

Dismissed as being washed up, the 17-time NBA champions controlled the tempo from the start. With Rondo driving past Williams and any other defender in front of him, the Celtics were on the verge of swiping home-court advantage away from Cleveland.

But James, who seemed to be bothered by the elbow early on, picked it up down the stretch.

After Rondo split a pair of free throws with 4:30 left, James drove the lane and missed a short shot but grabbed his own rebound and scored to put the Cavs ahead 94-91.

Garnett’s bucket got the Celtics within one, but James countered with a floater in the lane. After Paul Pierce missed a wide-open 3-pointer, Shaquille O’Neal, who looked slow and old during stretches, scored on a tip to make it 98-93 with 1:02 left.

Following a Boston turnover, James came up with the decisive blow. Pulling up on the left side, he buried a 3-pointer. He finished with 12 points in the fourth.

James tried just two outside shots in the first half, and came out of the locker room at halftime shaking his right arm, which he said has been bothering him periodically for a month. But it appeared perfectly fine when James needed it to be.

“Throughout the game it loosened up,” said James, who will receive his MVP trophy today. “I have a no-excuse policy. This team has a no-excuse policy. … We’re about coming out and competing against the Celtics.”

James closed the third with a twisting, falling-down layup at the horn, capping a 21-9 spurt that put the Cavaliers up 79-78, their first lead since 7-6.

But Williams was the one who carried the Cavs back. He scored 14 in the period and delivered a dunk on Pierce.

Cleveland trailed 69-58 when Williams grabbed a loose ball and raced down the floor before slamming it over Pierce, who was probably expecting the guard to try a layup.

“I saw Paul and I had to make an executive decision,” Williams said.

This is the second time in three years that the Cavs and Celtics are meeting in the conference semifinals. In 2008, the Celtics won a rugged series in seven games on their way to a championship.