Boston's Paul Pierce and Cleveland's LeBron James got into a spitting incident late in the third quarter of their game Monday. Pierce spit at the Cleveland bench after yelling at the Cavaliers substitutes to sit down. Pierce had beaten James on a crossover dribble and then hit a fallaway before James answered with a long jumper. James then stole the ball from Pierce and dunked. Pierce then confronted the Cleveland bench, leaving the game soon after to a chorus of boos from the crowd of 8,795 at Ohio State's Value City Arena. Both he and James were assessed technicals for jawing at each other.
COLUMBUS, Ohio _ Forget Red Sox versus Yankees.
That proved to be a mere warm-up act for the most heated rivalry of October _ the Cavaliers and Boston Celtics in preseason basketball.
Before a testy night at Value City Arena had concluded, LeBron James and Paul Pierce exchanged harsh words _ Pierce was accused of spitting at the Cavaliers' bench _ and the teams needed to be separated after a postgame altercation broke out in the hallway between the locker rooms.
About the only thing lacking was Don Zimmer charging the court and getting thrown to the hardwood.
For the second time in three nights the Cavaliers defeated the Celtics in a chippy game filled with nasty moments. Final score: Cavaliers 95, Celtics 88.
Just imagine when these games actually count. The first of three regular-season meetings takes place Nov. 26 in Boston.
"We're men too, and we are going to protect our team," Cavaliers guard Jeff McInnis said. "We're one for all and all for one just like our advertising campaign."
The memorable evening ended with the teams shouting in the narrow hallway for about a minute as security personnel and coaches pried players apart.
"I'm too old to be in the middle of it," said a smiling Cavaliers coach Paul Silas, who nonetheless waded into the scrum playing the role of peacekeeper.
Boston coach Doc Rivers said no punches were thrown, but there was pushing and shoving on both sides.
What precipitated the skirmish wasn't clear. James was asked for his opinion.
"It was the same thing that happened on the court," said James, who scored 21 points. "(There was) a lot of talking, a lot of conversation, but it's over and done with.
"We compete. That's all I can say about every time we play Boston. I love playing Boston. I guess we have a rival now."
Think NBA commissioner David Stern would like to reconsider his recent divisional realignment?
"This rivalry started when they traded me," said former Cavaliers guard Ricky Davis, who was sent to Boston early last season. "It's a beautiful thing. We're out there playing hard, and they (the Cavaliers) don't like it."
Pierce, who missed the game Saturday with a foot injury, leveled James in the first quarter with a hard but seemingly accidental foul.
Late in the third quarter, the two stars got together again, and this time, the hostility was no mistake. James stole the ball from Pierce at midcourt and swooped in for a one-handed dunk. Pierce came back up the court, glaring at the Cavaliers bench. What happened next is source of conjecture.
Some of the Cavaliers say Pierce spit toward players at their bench, a claim backed up by several courtside observers.
Pierce, who scored 14 points, declined comment about the accusation after he was pulled aside and counseled by teammate Gary Payton.
However, the most famous loogie since Keith Hernandez nailed Kramer and Newman had the Cavaliers talking.
"That was nasty right there," forward Ira Newble said. "I don't have any respect for him."
Moments later, Pierce and James began jawing at each other. Both earned technicals. Pierce continued a running dialogue with anyone within earshot.
"I don't know what set (Pierce) off, you will have to ask him," James said.
Pierce said he was just competing.
Cavaliers coach Paul Silas played down the nastiness, but there was little question he wanted to win the game. Four of his starters played 35 minutes led by James' 39 minutes.
The Cavaliers (6-1) have won five games in a row. Drew Gooden led the Cavaliers with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Eric Snow contributed seven assists.