|With Paul Pierce (center) and Kendrick Perkins on the prowl, Devin Brown and the Cavaliers scored a season-low 70 points. (David Kamerman/Globe Staff)|
Celtics: Men of the hour
They struggle in matinee, but beat James-less Cavs
The clock oddly struck at 12:30 p.m. for tip-off. Cavaliers star LeBron James was sitting on the bench in street clothes. And the weary Celtics and the sold-out TD Banknorth Garden crowd seemed in need of some strong coffee and maybe some brunch, too.
The sluggish Celtics eventually shook off a poor first half start during a rare matinee to defeat the Cavaliers, 80-70, yesterday and improve to 14-2. Boston easily scored a season-low in points (previous low 91) and shot a season-low 37.5 percent from the field. Luckily for the Celtics, Cleveland was worse, shooting 32.9 percent from the field while scoring a season low in points.
"We had a 12:30 game," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. "Difficult, but we knew it wasn't going to be an easy game. We anticipated LeBron playing. He didn't. The world doesn't stop. The game definitely doesn't stop. You just try to go out there and get a win for the most part."
The Celtics' star trio of Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce were far from their usually offensively superb selves.
Allen scored a game-high 20 points, but was 1 for 7 from 3-point range. Pierce entered averaging a team-best 22 points but scored 7 on 2-of-7 shooting. Garnett entered averaging 20.1 points but missed 10 of 12 shots and finished with 9 points. The good news for the Celtics was that a strong third quarter helped them build a big enough lead that kept minutes down for Allen (35), Pierce (30), and Garnett (26).
"If you told me before the game that Paul would be under 10 [points] and KG would be under 10 and Ray didn't have a great shooting night and would we win? I'd probably say no," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "But we won and that's the good thing,"
Said Garnett: "I was telling Paul that on my [shooting] release, it felt good. It just wasn't going in."
The Celtics were playing their third game in four days and won each contest. The previous two, against New York Thursday and at Miami Friday, both had 8 p.m. starts. Rivers called the two late national television games followed by a matinee the toughest game-time stretch of the season.
"Three [games] in less than normal hours," Rivers said. "It was a very, very tough game for both teams."
Said Allen: "It was a unique situation. To be able to win three games in that situation is ideal for us. We got through it. I think every two- to three-game stretch that we have throughout the league, we're tested in some way. To win games is ultimately what we are shooting for."
It would seem a good thing for Boston that the Cavaliers didn't play James for the second straight game because of a strained left index finger. The 6-foot-8-inch, 250-pounder is the NBA's leading scorer with an average of 30.7 points per game and he scored 38 in a 109-104 win at Cleveland last Tuesday. The Cavaliers were also without Larry Hughes (left leg bone bruise) and ex-Connecticut star Donyell Marshall (sprained right wrist).
But after learning that James was not playing, Rivers said the team's already-low intensity level dropped further.
"You could see before the game that they were tired, but they were engaged. They were ready," Rivers said. "When we got the news that LeBron was not playing for sure, you could see them [get lower]. They were making comments."
Cavaliers guard Devin Brown, who started in place of James, said: "No one can replace [James] and what he does."
The Celtics became the seventh team in franchise history to have a 9-0 start at home. Boston is three wins shy of tying the franchise record for best home start, set during the 1984-85 season. Just like the Celtics, the early-rising fans seemed sluggish on this day, too.
"This game was about us," Pierce said. "It wasn't a normal crowd. We didn't get no energy from the crowd."
The Celtics tied a season-low by scoring only 17 points in the first quarter while Cleveland scored 19. Boston held a 43-39 halftime lead after shooting 36.8 percent from the field, missing all four 3-point attempts, and not making one field goal outside the paint. The Cavaliers, however, shot even worse (33.3 percent) and missed 10 of 11 3-point attempts.
The Celtics woke up in the third quarter to outscore Cleveland, 21-11, and caused six turnovers to take a 64-50 lead. A Tony Allen free throw gave Boston a game-high 21-point lead with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter and enough breathing room to finish off this sleepy, early game.
"The Celtics turned it up coming out of halftime, put some more pressure on us, and we didn't handle the pressure well," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said.
Said Rivers: "There will be no video on this game, hopefully. It's a win and we'll take the win. Just a low-energy game."