CLEVELAND -- On a weird, wild, crazy night that featured incessant booing for Ricky Davis, an 11-minute delay for a clock malfunction, and a sequence in which the Celtics missed 15 consecutive shots, it all came down to what Paul Pierce could and could not do.
The more things change, etc.
Pierce had 32 points. That was the good part. But he was 1 for 7 in a tough fourth quarter. That was the not-so-good part. Pierce had a 19-point second quarter, personally keeping the Celtics from sinking into Lake Erie in an otherwise lamentable first half. But he didn't have enough later on, and he didn't have enough help.
And while Pierce and his mates were bricking away (26.3 percent) down the stretch, amassing a whopping 13 points in the fourth quarter, an old familiar face surfaced to make plays that Celtics fans had come to know, appreciate, and even expect from time to time. Eric Williams, in a bit of in-your-faceness, scored 9 of his 16 points down the stretch to propel his new team, the Cavaliers, past his old team, the Celtics, in a bizarre 97-89 victory.
"This is my first-ever win against the Celtics," said Williams, who reckoned he was 0-2 in previous tries, one with Cleveland and one with Denver. "How weird is that? But at the end, it was great. I got the real love from Walter [McCarty] and Paul and Mark Blount, the guys who were there with me in the grind. That brings a little bit of closure."
Cleveland had not beaten the Celtics in 13 games, including the last six at Gund Arena. But the Cavs are a much improved team since Williams came on board (14-14 since the Dec. 15 deal) and can speak about the postseason now without an accompanying laugh track. The win pushed them within 2 1/2 games of No. 8 Boston, which lost its seventh in eight games and is 1-6 since John Carroll took over for Jim O'Brien. (Miami and Philadelphia are only 1 1/2 games behind Boston.)
Despite an extraordinary first-half drought, in which the Celtics went more than eight minutes without a point and 10 minutes without a basket, it was anybody's game in the fourth. Davis got the full-bore razzmatazz, from the moment he entered the game (3:45 left in the first quarter) to the bitter end. He took it well. But, as Carroll noted, "That's a difficult situation for anyone. I thought he handled it well." Davis bolted out of the locker room after the game.
And when Davis (10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 turnovers in 28 minutes) connected on two free throws with 8:18 to play, the Celtics had an 84-83 lead. But Williams (5 of 10) faked a trey, drove the lane, and dropped in a 12-footer to give the Cavs the lead for good, 85-84, inaugurating a 9-0 burst. Pierce (12 of 30) then missed at the other end and Williams this time knocked down a 3-pointer. A series of misses then ended when LeBron James (24 points, 6 rebounds) made two free throws with 6:15 left and then, after another Pierce miss, Jeff McInnis tossed in a banker to make it 92-84.
Then came the weird part. Pierce got James airborne, made contact, and hit a sweet floater. With Pierce having a chance for a 3-point play, the scoring clocks suddenly stopped. So did the game and whatever momentum the Celtics might have thought they had. Eleven minutes later, Pierce completed the 3-point play.
"I didn't think it was a problem," Pierce said. "Both teams were sitting there."
Pierce's basket -- his only one of the period -- was the only hoop the Celtics made between a Davis fallaway with 9:16 left and a Davis garbage layup with 53.4 seconds left. In between were a lot of bricks, including a couple of wide-open looks from the usually dead-eye Jiri Welsch. The Celtics opened the game with a 14-point first quarter and closed with the 13-point fourth quarter.
"Usually, you can survive with one of those," said Carroll, who again pointed to rebounding (54-42 Cleveland advantage) as a big factor.
Said Welsch, "One of our weaknesses all season has been inconsistency, whether it's from game to game or within a game. We have to deal with it."
The Celtics dealt with the first lapse, falling behind, 24-14, after one. Bridging the first and second quarters was their Biblical stretch of futility, which, in addition to 15 consecutive missed field goals, also included 5 turnovers and 2 missed free throws. The Cavs should have led by 20, but they were only marginally better. They got the lead to 38-24 in the second quarter, only to see the Celtics pare it to 53-48 at the half and 78-76 after three. Also coming up big for Cleveland was Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had 19 points and a season-high 16 rebounds.
But just when the Celtics seemed poised to strike, Pierce came up wayward and Williams came up like the veteran he is. The two shared a good laugh afterward. They won't see each other again until next year, which maybe is not a bad thing for the Celtics.