CLEVELAND -Too much LeBron James. There really is no other way to describe what happened to theCeltics last night.
Just as the Celtics put themselves in position to tie the Cavaliers in the third quarter, James went to work, scoring 15 of his 36 points and sending Cleveland on its way to a 115-93 victory.
With the exception of better shooting by Boston, the game ended much the way it started, with Cleveland comfortably ahead. Paul Pierce (24 points) and Ricky Davis (27) could not keep pace with the combined talents of James and Larry Hughes (25 points).
James dashed any hope the Celtics had of a comeback by dominating late in the third, scoring all 10 points in a 10-1 run that put the Cavaliers ahead, 84-73. Once the Cavaliers regained that double-digit lead, they never let the Celtics get remotely close. Coach Doc Rivers took out his starters with a little less than three minutes to play, resting them for tonight's contest against the Hawks.
The Cavaliers extended their winning streak to eight games and remained undefeated at home (6-0). While Cleveland prepares for a Thanksgiving matchup with Central Division rival Indiana, the Celtics go to Atlanta still in search of their first road win.
In the third quarter, the Celtics staged an 11-1 run that started with a 3-pointer from Delonte West and ended with a 3-pointer from Davis. In a little more than six minutes, they went from trailing by 12 (73-61) to closing within 2 (74-72). The Cavaliers took a timeout, and as the Celtics came to the bench, Davis shouted to the crowd, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Finally, the ex-Cav had a response for all the taunts and boos from the crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena.
But the joy was short-lived. The Celtics were called for a three-second violation and James began his spurt at the foul line. Then West was called for a questionable offensive foul as he went in for a layup. Trying hard to avoid a defender, West fell hard and suffered a left hip contusion with 3:19 left in the period.
He did not return, and the Celtics had to try to come back without their starting point guard. The fragility of West has been a concern for Rivers and basketball boss Danny Ainge. West was listed as day-to-day and is expected to be a game-time decision tonight.
Usually, it goes from bad to worse for the Celtics. But in the first half, they actually played better as the game went on. They trailed by as many as 16 in the second quarter before rallying and entering halftime behind by 7, 58-51.
In a game that looked destined to be a Cleveland blowout, the Celtics staged an 11-2 run late in the second and made the contest competitive. Pierce started the spurt with a 17-foot fadeaway. A 3-pointer by Pierce, followed by a 16-footer from Davis, capped the run and brought Boston within 7 at 50-43.
After struggling from the floor in the first quarter (33 percent), the Celtics found their rhythm and then some in the second (58 percent). But Rivers had to be most pleased with the improved defense. Although the Cavs shot 44 percent in the second, the Celtics made them work for points and kept them from scoring in the paint the entire quarter.
It was a small step in the right direction for the Celtics, who have struggled defensively in recent games.
The Cavaliers wasted no time building an early 18-7 lead behind an 11-2 run. All the while, Rivers exhorted his team to play tougher defense. The two-pronged Cleveland attack featuring James and Hughes proved too much to contain. The high-scoring duo accounted for 22 of Cleveland's 27 points in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Celtics tandem of Davis (1 for 5) and Pierce (3 for 8) couldn't get on track in the first. The Celtics couldn't even get anything going on the break. They didn't help themselves by committing ill-timed turnovers that led to 8 points for Cleveland.
Given the recent history between the teams, neither expected an easy win. By coming back in the second quarter, the Celtics showed resiliency and their tendency to play up to the competition.
They don't give up easily to teams like Detroit or Cleveland, but struggling squads like Toronto and Seattle don't bring out the best in the Celtics.
In the second quarter, the Celtics showed they could hang tough with the Cavaliers if they played defense. The question was how long they could sustain the effort, and the answer turned out to be not long enough.