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Dan Shaughnessy

Beating left them red-faced

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 4, 2010

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CLEVELAND — This was impressive.

The good people of Cleveland could not believe what they were seeing. They watched the Cavaliers fall behind by 10, 15, 20, 25. They watched LeBron James in handcuffs (15 shots) and Mo Williams in leg irons (1-for-9 shooting).

Local fans booed their own team. Demoralized, some of them started filing out of Quicken Loans Arena with the Celtics leading, 91-66, with 8:32 left in the fourth quarter. A frustrated fan hurled a plastic beer bottle on the court after Paul Pierce horse-collared Williams.

It was just like the old days in Syracuse and St. Louis and Minneapolis, when the Celtics punched first and asked questions later. Red Auerbach would have loved it.

The Cavaliers won more games than any team in basketball this season. They are supposed to bring Cleveland its first championship of any kind since 1964 (Browns). They are 74-8 at the Quicken Loans Arena the last two regular seasons.

And the Celtics beat them, 104-86, last night.

Impressive.

“They kicked our behinds from the beginning,’’ said perturbed Cleveland coach Mike Brown. “We did not fight back until late. We’ve got to decide if we’re going to take the fight to them. There ain’t a thing that is going to be given to us in this series. Coming from behind in the first game, coming from behind in the second game, that’s not good enough. We’ve got to bring a greater sense of urgency than we did tonight.’’

In Game 1 Saturday, the Celtics ran out to an 11-point lead midway through the third, then faded dramatically and lost by 8. There was some of the same last night as they watched Cleveland cut a 25-point deficit to 10, but this time Boston’s lead was too big.

If I were LeBron James I’d be a little worried. Home-court advantage has been lost and the Celtics came close to winning both games in Cleveland. The Celtics have no fear of Cleveland and the Cavs know it. The series moves to the Garden Friday night, a ridiculous rest that favors the geezers in Green.

Before we go any further, a word about Rajon Rondo. We need to call Bob Cousy and ask him about this guy. What Rondo is doing to the Cavaliers looks a lot like what Cooz did to the St. Louis Hawks in 1957.

Boston’s flossy point guard has been better than MVP LBJ in this series. Rondo was on the floor for all but 32 seconds of the first three quarters and dished out 19 assists in the game. This comes on the heels of his Game 1 performance, which featured 27 points and 12 assists.

The Celtics won it when they routed the Cavs, 31-12, in the third. Rondo had seven assists in the crucial quarter (“they manhandled us in the third quarter,’’ said Brown).

“Our theme at halftime was fast break and push the ball up the floor,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We had to get easy buckets and we got some. It was a physical game tonight and that was good.’’

Asked if his team felt dismissed by oddsmakers and national media, Rivers said, “I’m sure they read it, I’m sure they hear it. I’m sure they have a lot of pride. But you still have to guard LeBron James. We’re not going to beat anybody individually, but if we do it together, we’ve got a shot.’’

“We heard it on the road, we heard it from our own media at home,’’ said Ray Allen (22 points). “We didn’t worry about it. Everybody was ready for the challenge. We were ready for the ball to be tossed up.’’

Who would have expected Rondo to dominate the first two games of a series that featured LeBron?

Boston’s quarterback had help in the form of Allen’s Sam Jones imitation and Kevin Garnett’s 18 points and 10 rebounds. Even the heretofore useless Rasheed Wallace (17 points, 7-for-8 shooting) contributed mightily. Called out by his coach before the game, Sheed made his first five shots and narrowly missed a trey at the end of the third that would have put the Celtics ahead by 26.

The Cavaliers cut the lead to 10 with their 15-0 run in the final period, but a 25-point deficit was simply too great. This was the Celtics’ most impressive playoff game since the dismantling of the Lakers at the Garden in Game 6 two years ago.

“I’m concerned,’’ said Brown. “Our defense was not there tonight. I can’t explain it. We all got our behinds kicked. Every single one of us did not fight tonight and it showed on the court. They were a lot more physical than us. They got every single loose ball. Every single 50-50 ball. They beat us to the punch and it showed out there.

“We can’t think we’re going to win this series playing with the lack of urgency we played with tonight.’’

The Celtics cut out the Cavs’ hearts and broke their spirit. If it’s true that a playoff series doesn’t really start until the road team wins a game, then this series is officially underway.

The Cavaliers are in trouble and their fans know it.

And somewhere very high above courtside, Red is chortling, lighting up a Hoyo de Monterrey.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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