New-look Celtics make statement against Cavaliers
CLEVELAND - The Celtics might have felt the fates, as well as the season-opening dates, were going against them before last night.
First, there was a road game against the Cavaliers, a team they had not defeated away from home in nearly five years. Then, there was a week of Celtic players going down in bizarre circumstances - one (Brian Scalabrine) sustaining a sprained ankle stepping on a cameraman’s foot in an exhibition game; another (Ray Allen) receiving seven stitches in the head after an elbow from a teammate in a practice drill; then Glen Davis breaking his right thumb while fighting with a friend in the front seat of a vehicle.
But all that was forgotten as the Celtics took a 95-89 victory over the Cavaliers, their first on Lake Erie shores since 2004.
Though the Celtics, who play host to Charlotte in their home opener tonight, got off to a slow start, this was a decisive victory and confirmation of the team’s improvement.
“Psychologically, you go into another team’s building, especially a team with such a great record last year [39-2] at home,’’ Paul Pierce (23 points) said, “and a place we haven’t won in a few years. It’s great, psychologically, to go in here and get a win, so we know next time we come in here we know we’ve done it and we’re capable of doing it again.’’
Both teams made bold offseason acquisitions.
The addition of reserves Marquis Daniels, Rasheed Wallace, and Shelden Williams paid off for the Celtics right away. But the Cavaliers are still adjusting to newcomers Jamario Moon, Shaquille O’Neal, and Anthony Parker, and they had no adequate replacement for Delonte West, who was on the inactive list.
“The second unit saved the game for us,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “And then the first unit down the stretch won the game for us.
“Big win for us. Like I said before the game, big game - we really needed to win in this building. Now the game’s over, and it’s just one of 82. It tells us that we can win anywhere and it also tells us we can get better.’’
The Cavaliers took a 13-2 lead, Kevin Garnett scoring the only Celtic points in his first appearance since March, before Rivers called a timeout. Cleveland stretched the advantage to 17-4 before the Celtics recovered.
Wallace made his Celtic debut with 4:54 remaining in the first, the Celtics trailing, 21-12. A Wallace three, a Daniels banker, and two Williams foul shots cut the deficit to 7. Then Daniels stripped LeBron James just before the buzzer, preventing the Cavaliers from taking the final shot of the quarter.
Though the Celtics trailed, 28-21, after a quarter, they did not seem out of contention - as they did in the early-going of 98-83 and 107-76 losses to the Cavaliers last year.
Rivers stayed with the reserves, plus Allen, to start the second quarter. Wallace’s three with :04 on the shot clock tied the score, 32-32, with 7:49 remaining in the half. Then the starters returned, and Pierce’s 3-pointer with :04 on the shot clock gave the Celtics the lead, 39-38, with 4:55 remaining.
James (38 points) kept Cleveland in contention, his free throw providing the Cavaliers with a 45-44 lead, their last of the game, with 1:48 left in the half.
After Allen’s 3-pointer made it 49-45 with a minute remaining, James had a drive negated by a shot-clock violation. The Celtics then continued an 18-2 run over a 5:05 stretch, spanning the halves, Allen’s free throw making the score 62-47 with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
Garnett (13 points, 10 rebounds) was playing his first game since undergoing knee surgery. And the Cavaliers tested him with an extra-large lineup that included O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the final quarter.
Cleveland rallied within 83-79 on a James three with 4:50 remaining. Kendrick Perkins broke a 4:33 Celtics scoring drought with a 3-point play off a Pierce assist, stretching the lead to 83-76 with 5:32 remaining. But Garnett missed before James’s 3-pointer.
Pierce gave the Celtics a 6-point edge, then Garnett’s banker made it 87-79 with 2:43 to play. Then, it turned into a Pierce vs. James duel. Pierce scored the final 8 Celtic points in the last 1:03.
Trailing, 89-83, Cleveland failed to get a shot out of a timeout, a James pass going off Parker, the ball bouncing into the Celtic bench with 53.4 seconds left. The Celtics then called a timeout, Pierce converting out of the timeout with :02 on the shot clock. Anderson Varejao cut the Cavs deficit with a free throw, then James dunked off a steal, pulling Cleveland within 91-86 with 15.9 seconds left. Pierce restored the 7-point edge with two free throws.
“Two years ago that bench was pretty good,’’ Rivers said. “This is a better-scoring bench, I will say that. And when they defend they are really good. And that’s what they did in that stretch [in the second quarter]. As well as our bench scored, they got stops, and that’s what kept them on the floor. We also had only one turnover in the second quarter.’’
Rivers added, “We have to be better than we played [last night], even though we won the game and we’re really excited. In the penalty with eight minutes left we took 10 jump shots in a row - those are things veteran teams, smarter teams, don’t do. But it’s early in the season, and we’ll work on that.’’