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Celtics 76, Cavaliers 72

Roughing it

Celtics grind their way to win in opener

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / May 7, 2008

Imagine two heavyweight boxers, nose to nose, sweating profusely, throwing body blow after body blow until only one is barely left standing. Not the type of fight you want to watch over again or remember. No, not pretty in the least.

That's basically how Kevin Garnett described his Celtics' ugly 76-72 victory over the Cavaliers in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series at TD Banknorth Garden last night.

"This was two heavyweights, just body punching," said Garnett. "You know, there wasn't no finesse, no jabs, just all body punches, just all-out beat-down defensive fight."

The defensive-minded contest might have been an affair that only Bill Russell could love.

Garnett scored 28 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and made a key late shot that proved decisive. As for his fellow All-Star teammates, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, they both struggled mightily offensively.

Allen averaged 17.4 points per game during the regular season, Pierce 19.6. But last night, Allen went scoreless in a playoff game for the first time in his career, and scoreless in any game for only the second time.

Allen, who took only four field goal attempts and zero free throws, had scored at least a point in 852 straight games.

Pierce, meanwhile, was 2 for 14, missing all three 3-point attempts, and didn't attempt a free throw. That left him with 4 points.

"It just didn't come my way," said Allen. "As much as we turned the ball over, I think early in the game we didn't create a good rhythm on offense.

"It was just one of those nights."

Said Pierce, "At this point in my career, I'm not really worried about what I do statistically out there on the court, I am just trying to help my ball club win.

"I was looking at it like I can't play no worse than this and we got a win."

Luckily for Boston, Cleveland star LeBron James was offensive offensively, too.

James, who averaged an NBA-best 30 points per game in the regular season (32.3 in three games against Boston) was only 2 for 18 from the field, missing all six 3-point attempts. He finished with 12 points, 9 assists, 9 rebounds - as well as 10 turnovers.

James also missed a potential tying lay-in with about 9 seconds remaining. The Celtics stymied him with double-teams, triple-teams, and great one-on-one defense by Cleveland native James Posey. James shot 1 for 8 in the fourth quarter.

"In attacking the rim, he didn't get the call, especially down the stretch," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "Guys have nights like that, but it is unusual to see him have a night like that from the field.

"He very seldom has a game like this, but he will bounce back and play a terrific game in Game 2."

Said James, "Defensively, both teams were locked in. Now we just got to get ready for Game 2."

The Celtics shot only 42.6 percent from the field, had 23 turnovers, and missed 10 of 14 3-point attempts. From the point guard position, however, they received 15 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds from starter Rajon Rondo and 13 points from Sam Cassell.

The Cavaliers were worse offensively, shooting 30.7 percent, missing 14 of 18 3-pointers, and committing 18 turnovers. Cleveland stayed in the game by nailing 22 of 26 free throw attempts.

"The Celtics defense was good," Brown said. "They did a good job making the paint look crowded and contesting our shooters from the perimeter."

Garnett's 20-foot jumper with 1:17 remaining tied the game at 70. After Cassell was fouled by Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (22 points, 12 rebounds) with 52.8 seconds left, he nailed two free throws to give Boston a 72-70 lead.

Ilgauskas's putback on a James miss tied the game again at 72 with 39 seconds left. But Garnett's turnaround hook with 21.4 seconds left pushed Boston ahead for good, 74-72.

"I was just being aggressive," Garnett said. "I noticed that they were trapping from different positions, saw a lane, and just was aggressive. Took my time, got my head up, just a good shot and that's it. Nothing more, nothing less to it. Just trying to be a lot more aggressive on the floor."

James missed a driving lay-in with about 9 seconds left. After getting the rebound and being fouled, Posey nailed two free throws with 8.5 seconds left to seal the game.

"Well, I thought it was the Knicks-Heat series for about 20 minutes of that game," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It was a beautiful win. I guess I'll put it that way.

"A lot of things didn't go our way and a lot of things didn't go their way, either, and we just found a way to win the game. I'm really happy and I loved the way we played defense."

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