CLEVELAND -- The squandered possession started with a bad pass by Paul Pierce, another example of the Celtics forcing plays after failing to recognize the open man. It turned into a steal by LeBron James.
James sprinted down the court with designs on a driving layup. Pierce, trailing, grabbed James by the neck, an intentional foul and last-ditch effort to keep a couple of points off the board.
But James twisted his body around the stranglehold and scored anyway. He went to the line and completed the 3-point play.
''He's a strong guy," said Pierce. ''He's 6-8, 250 pounds. You've got to foul him a little harder."
The sequence typified all that went right for the Cavaliers and all that went wrong for the Celtics in last night's 115-93 Cleveland win at Quicken Loans Arena.
Defensively, Boston could not stop James (36 points) or shooting guard Larry Hughes (25 points). Even the best of defensive teams will struggle with that tandem. And the Celtics are far from the best of defensive teams despite showing more intensity last night. Offensively, Boston could not hold onto the ball, committing 20 turnovers that resulted in 24 Cleveland points.
As a result, the Celtics gave themselves little chance at either end, as Cleveland (9-2) extended its winning streak to a league-best eight games and remained undefeated at home (6-0).
Boston (4-6) headed south, literally not figuratively, after the game in hopes of earning its first road win against Atlanta tonight. The well-rested Hawks (off since Friday) are still seeking their first win, period. But the Celtics may have to compete without starting point guard Delonte West, who suffered a left hip contusion late in the third, and with growing frustration over their inconsistent play.
''There's a couple hurdles we have to get over," said Pierce (24 points, career-high 15 rebounds). ''When we get over one hurdle, we come to another one. That's where consistency comes in. We have to be more consistent on the defensive end, and offensively it's just our turnovers.
''It's a team game. It wasn't one individual who committed the 20 turnovers. It comes from everybody. We have to make a concentrated effort of taking care of the ball."
Problems with turnovers cost the Celtics early against a more aggressive opponent. To their credit, they righted themselves in the second period after a regrettable quarter and a half.
The 3-point play by James pushed Cleveland ahead by 16 (44-28) with 6 minutes 32 seconds remaining. But the Cavaliers could not extend that into blowout territory before the Celtics rallied and entered halftime behind only 7, 58-51.
The Celtics made the contest competitive by staging an 11-2 run late in the half. Instead of settling for jump shots, the Celtics attacked the basket more.
They continued to show determination in the third quarter, putting together an impressive 11-1 run. The spurt started with a 3-pointer from West and ended with a 3-pointer from Ricky Davis (27 points, 5 assists, 5 turnovers).
In a little more than six minutes, the Celtics went from trailing by 12 (73-61) to closing within 2 (74-72). The Cavaliers took a timeout, and as the Celtics came to the bench, Davis shouted to the crowd, ''Yeah, yeah, yeah." Finally, the ex-Cav had a response for all the taunts and boos from the crowd of 17,139.
But the joy was short-lived. James would not give the Celtics the satisfaction of applying a second stranglehold.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week scored all 10 points in a 10-1 run that closed the quarter and put the home team ahead, 84-73. During the run, West was called for a questionable charge on a driving layup, a play that sent him crashing to the floor on his left hip.
''They made a run in the third quarter and I thought it was time for me to start attacking," said James. ''I did, and we were able to get a few stops. After that, we were able to [keep] the lead and not let them get back into the game.
''We are focused on holding the fort down here at home. We don't want anyone to come in here and beat us. It would be ideal to go 41-0 at home. It sounds unrealistic, but the way we are playing now, it looks like it can happen."
The way the Celtics are playing, anything can happen, too. Just not the way they want.