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Big momentum changer was powerful stuff

Cavaliers fans tried to distract the Rajon Rondo at the free throw line, but the Celtics guard finished an impressive 12 for 14. Cavaliers fans tried to distract the Rajon Rondo at the free throw line, but the Celtics guard finished an impressive 12 for 14. (Jim Davis/ Globe Staff)
By Duane Rankin
Globe Correspondent / May 2, 2010

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CLEVELAND — Mo Williams got the party started for Cleveland.

Known more for splashing 3-pointers and going on scoring streaks, Williams stepped out of character and stuffed a one-handed dunk in Paul Pierce’s face in the third quarter last night.

“Anything uncharacteristic that happens, it always sparks energy,’’ Williams said.

It was on from there.

Williams scored 14 points in the third to help the Cavaliers erase an 11-point halftime deficit and upend the Celtics, 101-93, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals before a sellout crowd of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena.

Williams finished with 20 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds.

When Cleveland coach Mike Brown was asked if he thought Williams could dunk, he must have laughed for 10 to 15 seconds before answering.

“That surprised me,’’ said Brown. “Yeah. Mo jumped and the ball went [in] and I didn’t even know what happened, you know.

“I just kind of figured he had to dunk . . . but that was a heck of a play by Mo. Heck of a play, boy.’’

Williams did more than dunk, though.

He had 10 straight points to trim Boston’s 11-point lead to 5, 73-68, with 3:12 remaining in the third. The Cavaliers ended the quarter on an 11-5 run to take a 79-78 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“When he picked it up, it kind of gave the whole team a lift with that dunk,’’ Cleveland second-year forward J.J. Hickson said.

LeBron James also had a bit to do with that lift.

Defusing the notion his right elbow was going to stop him from affecting the game, James finished with 35 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. James had 21 points in the second half, 12 in the fourth quarter.

“I think his elbow was fine,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Pretty sure of it, actually.’’

Shaquille O’Neal was also key as he put in 6 of his 11 points in the fourth, but Williams’s dunk over Pierce turned the game around.

The Cavaliers were down, 69-58, when Williams leaked out on the fast break with only Pierce back on defense. Williams initially thought about laying it up.

“I thought he would block the layup and my intention was to kind of shoot like what I call like a floater layup and kind of fade away from it a little bit so he couldn’t get to it,’’ Williams said.

Then he kept rising.

“I realized I was a little higher so I was like, well, I think I might try it,’’ Williams said. “It was a great feeling, I tell you that.’’

So instead of trying a layup, the 6-foot-1-inch Williams went strong to the rim and dunked on the 6-7 Pierce with his right hand.

“Those red shoes might have helped him fly a little bit,’’ Brown said.

Last week, Williams said of the series, “We don’t like them, they don’t like us.’’

Last night, he made a play that wasn’t as powerful as the dunk James mashed on Kevin Garnett in the 2008 playoffs, but the crowd went just as crazy.

“I told Mo if he ever dunked in the game, it’s going to be so unexpected, it’s going to inspire everybody on the team,’’ James said.

Williams, who averaged 15.6 points against the Bulls in the first-round series, had just 4 points in the first half as the Cavaliers trailed, 54-43, at the break.

Instead of shutting down, Williams stepped up his game. He hit runners and step-back jumpers, but none of those shots compared to his dunk on Pierce.

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