THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Celtics team up for latest laugh

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 5, 2010

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It was a funny remark Mo Williams probably wishes he could take back now. At the time, the mood was light and celebratory; it was a day after LeBron James turned the MVP presentation into sort of an exclusive ceremony for himself and his teammates.

A lot of grinning and laughing was involved.

The morning before the Cleveland Cavaliers dropped Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series to the Celtics — falling behind by as much as 25 — somebody had asked Williams if he received the gift that MVPs customarily give to their teammates.

Williams hadn’t gotten such a token of appreciation, and he joked, “So we’re going to boycott.’’

It was funny then. He had dropped 20 points on the Celtics in Game 1, abusing them in a third-quarter scoring spree. But that night he would have only 4 points, going 1 for 9 from the floor in the kind of performance that can turn an off-the-cuff joke into famous last words.

Left hanging by his supporting cast, James scored 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the 104-86 loss while his teammates combined to shoot 38 percent from the floor.

Meanwhile, the Celtics had all hands on deck, putting all five starters in double digits as they evened this second-round series, 1-1, with Game 3 coming up Friday at TD Garden. Rajon Rondo sprayed 19 assists around — he had a hand in more than half the Celtics’ 104 points — and Rasheed Wallace’s 17 points were the surprise of the night.

If Game 2 proved anything, it’s that Cleveland won’t be able to win with one player alone, and it will take more than three — or even five — for the Celtics to win.

“That’s pretty much the game plan for how we’re going to have to beat this team,’’ Kevin Garnett said. “We’re going to have to do it together and collectively.’’

“That’s how our team is right now,’’ said Celtics president Danny Ainge. “Not any one person has to carry the load, and we don’t rely on one person to have a great performance. Every night it can be a different person, and that’s the strength of our team.’’

It’s no secret that as the starters go, the Celtics go, but there’s a limit on how much of the load they can be expected to carry. In Game 1, Garnett played a season-high 39 minutes. Paul Pierce matched him. Ray Allen and Rondo both played 40 plus. They scored 81 of the Celtics’ 93 points. James gave Cleveland the usual 35 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds in 43 minutes, but he got a lift to the tune of 26 points from the bench.

In Game 2, coach Doc Rivers asked for more out of the bench — specifically Wallace — but it was something the reserves recognized themselves. Whether it’s Marquis Daniels guarding James, Nate Robinson running pick-and-rolls, Michael Finley stretching the floor, or Glen Davis making 50/50 plays, each night, a different player could have an impact.

“The bench collectively as a group said we had to do something,’’ Davis said. “We’re capable enough and we feel like we’re one of the best bench teams in the league.

“If we can keep the level of play and people stepping up and delivering, we’re going to be fine.’’

The issue for the Celtics throughout the season was getting players on the same page and keeping them there. Injuries made consistency impossible. But the Cavaliers, even with a league-best 61 wins, had issues, too. They’ve gotten out to slow starts in both games in this series, and being disjointed Monday night cost them in the third quarter when the Celtics outscored them, 31-12.

“I think all five guys that were on the court at one time weren’t communicating,’’ James said. “We weren’t in tune with one another and the game plan.

“There may have been three of the five guys or four of the five guys or two of the five guys on the same page. When five guys at the same time aren’t on the same page, then things can break down. That’s exactly what happened.’’

The entire cast has to be reading from the same script. It’s as true for Cleveland as for Boston.

“That’s what it’s going to take to beat this team,’’ Garnett said.

An NBA spokesman said the league is reviewing the actions of Ainge during the third quarter of Game 2 when the Celtics president threw a towel in an apparent attempt to distract Cavs forward J.J. Hickson, who was shooting a free throw. The Celtics were leading at the time, 80-57, and Hickson made the free throw. “That was interesting to see that happen during the flow of the game, from Danny Ainge,’’ said Cleveland coach Mike Brown. “If it’s within the rules, hey, at this time, you do whatever you can to win. As long as it’s within the rules.’’ Ainge said, “I guess that’s a good thing if that’s the biggest distraction we’ve got.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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