Delonte West scored 20 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas 12 for top-seeded Cleveland, who compiled a 29-point lead in the final quarter but lost its edge and let the Detroit slide back into the game in the closing minutes.
"We let it slip away from us," Cleveland guard Daniel Gibson said. "But we got it back."
James added 13 rebounds, six assists before taking a seat in the fourth quarter. But as Cleveland's star was resting up for game three tomorrow night in Detroit, the Pistons closed within 14 and forced Cavs coach Mike Brown to put James and Cleveland's other starters back in. Detroit eventually closed within seven on Antonio McDyess' jumper with 3:51 left, but James restored order down the stretch. Richard Hamilton scored 17 for the Pistons.
Meanwhile, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was named the Defensive Player of the Year on Tuesday.
The 23-year-old became the youngest player to win the award, after a season that saw him become just the fifth player to lead the league in both blocks and rebounds in the same campaign.
"To be the defensive player of the year at 23 is remarkable," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "To be a great defensive player usually comes later in a career. And he still has so much room for improvement."
Howard is five months younger than Alvin Robertson, who was 23 years and nine months old when he won the award with San Antonio in the 1985-86 season.
Howard received 542 points, including 105 first-place votes from a panel of 119 sports reporters and broadcasters.
LeBron James was second with 148 points and Miami's Dwyane Wade was third with 90 points.
The only other players to lead the NBA in rebounds and blocks in the same regular season were Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ben Wallace.
Howard passed Wilt Chamberlain as the youngest NBA player to reach the 5,000-rebound mark and became an All-Star for the third time.