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Cavaliers stumble back home

Team hopes to get on track in Cleveland

Surrounded by a horde of hungry Celtics, Cavaliers star LeBron James hits the deck in an attempt to dish the ball to a teammate. Surrounded by a horde of hungry Celtics, Cavaliers star LeBron James hits the deck in an attempt to dish the ball to a teammate. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 9, 2008

Perhaps Ben Wallace had the right idea. The Cavaliers' starting power forward said he became dizzy when his allergies started acting up, and was forced to depart last night's Game 2 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Celtics with 8:42 remaining in the first quarter.

At least Wallace got out while the going was good.

"There was a lot of smoke at the start of the first quarter and you just can't play basketball with your head spinning," Wallace said afterward. "They say Boston's tough on your allergies."

It is especially tough around playoff time, as Wallace and the Cavaliers can attest.

The Cavaliers departed TD Banknorth Garden in a similar state - dizzy - after absorbing an 89-73 setback that enabled the Celtics to take a 2-0 series lead. After he followed up a woeful Game 1 performance (12 points on 2-for-18 shooting, 10 turnovers) with 21 points on 6-for-24 shooting, LeBron James was left to look toward home and the prospect of holding serve in Game 3 at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers went 27-14 during the regular season and are 2-1 in the playoffs.

"Home court has always been good for us," James said. "So we're going to use the crowd and we've just got to continue to keep our heads up on offense and make the extra pass and get teammates open. And we've got to knock down shots. We missed close to 12 uncontested jump shots. We missed some layups that we normally knock down.

"We can't win a game shooting 30 percent from the field in Game 1 and shooting 35 percent from the field in the second game. It's just not going to happen, not against a team like this."

The Cavaliers squandered a 12-point, first-quarter lead (21-9) when the Celtics' second unit took over and outscored (20-1) and outrebounded (11-3) Cleveland to help Boston control a 44-36 halftime lead.

"They played well," said the Cavaliers' Wally Szczerbiak. "They did what they were supposed to do, they held on to home court and we've got to go back and regroup. That second half wasn't Cavaliers basketball. We let the crowd get to us a little bit, we didn't execute, and they came at us. They smelled blood and they went right for the jugular."

Said Cleveland point guard Delonte West, "When you have a crowd that gets excited for everything that you do, every shot that you make, it can change the momentum of the game."

That was precisely the effect the sellout crowd of 18,624 had in the third quarter when the Celtics expanded their lead to 18 at 56-38.

"It was almost like every loose ball, the Celtics beat us to it," said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. "So you have to give them credit for doing that the entire night. They were aggressive, with 38 free throw attempts. They were aggressive driving the ball. But it comes down to us doing the little things, like getting the loose balls."

And not turning it over.

"We need to be conscious of not having any turnovers that then lead to points," said Brown, whose team committed 15 turnovers that led to 23 points.

James was more frustrated with his 17 turnovers than his 19 percent shooting (8 for 42) in the series. "I'm more frustrated with that because I know how to protect the ball and I've been pretty good with protecting the ball this whole season and in the playoffs," he said.

Now the Cavaliers must try to rekindle the magic they produced in last year's Eastern Conference finals, when they rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win Game 3, and eventually the series against the Pistons.

"Of course it helps, to have been in that situation before, you know how to adjust," James said. "This is a very similar team to Detroit in that they have so many weapons and defensively they're a very good team, but we found a way to win Game 3 against Detroit last year. Like I say, home court has been a good place for us this season and we have to approach it that way."

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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