CLEVELAND — He tuned out the boos. He smiled at the derisive chants. He embraced all the negativity Cleveland could muster.
LeBron James wasn't fazed by anything.
He brought his talents back home and reminded everyone — even the haters — why he's missed.
Returning as a villain to his native state and the city he scorned this summer, James scored 38 points — 24 in a virtuoso third-quarter performance — to lead the Miami Heat to a 118-90 win on Thursday night, turning his hostile homecoming into another embarrassing moment for the Cavaliers.
By halftime, James was the one having fun. By the fourth quarter, he was watching from the bench as Cavs fans headed into the cold for a disappointing drive home.
This wasn't the payback they waited five months to inflict.
James simply wouldn't allow it.
"I know this court. I've made a lot of shots on this court," he said.
As he did so many times during seven seasons for the Cavs, the two-time defending league MVP did anything he wanted on the floor. In the third quarter, he made 10 of 12 shots, jumpers from every angle and taunted Cleveland's bench after draining a seemingly impossible baseline jumper.
With security guards forming a human barricade to line his entrance, James came hopping out of the tunnel and into the electrically charged atmosphere inside Quicken Loans Arena, as more than 20,000 fans, the same ones who once adored him, turned their fury on James.
It was rowdy, but thankfully, not violent.
Just in case, Moondog, the Cavs' fuzzy mascot, wore a bulletproof vest.
Booed every time he touched the ball, James scored 14 points in the first half as the Heat opened a 59-40 lead, and threatened to turn the highly anticipated game into a blowout.
He quickly made certain of one.
Miami outscored Cleveland 36-25 in the third to open a 95-65 lead, prompting Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra to pull his superstar. James spent the final 12 minutes as a spectator, glancing at the scoreboard and into the stands at so many familiar faces.
Las Vegas placed odds on whether James would perform his pre-game powder toss ritual at the scorer's table. He went through with it, leaving a cloud of dust above his head — a gesture fans here used to embrace but can't stomach any longer.
Security was super tight.
One fan was immediately ejected after he pointed at James and screamed in the superstar's face before tip-off. The Cavaliers promised to safeguard James, who crushed them last summer when he decided to leave as a free agent and join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
As the Akron native took pre-game layups, Cleveland fans vented, some holding up signs that read "Akron Hates You Too," "Merry Quitness," "The Decision: Stay or Betray" and "Remember Game 5," a reference to his final home game with the Cavs, when he went just 3-for-14 and scored 15 in a lopsided loss to Boston in last season's Eastern Conference semifinals.