March 21, 2002
The postgame scene in the Celtics' locker room was pure Paul Pierce comedy. He let his alter-ego for the night - a six-inch bobblehead doll - do the talking. As questions came from different directions, Pierce simply shook the doll for an endless stream of yes answers. And Pierce had the perfect game for his bobblehead buddy to break down.
After the Celtics romped to a 96-70 win over the Cavaliers at the FleetCenter, there wasn't much reason for disagreement. They were pleased with their defense, which held the Cavaliers to 35.5 percent from the floor. It was the first time in almost two weeks that Boston kept an opponent below 40 percent. After struggling though a close first half and entering the break ahead, 42-41, the Celtics were satisfied with the way they responded in the third quarter.
The halftime lead came courtesy of a heave by Pierce from well beyond halfcourt. The Celtics, who got solid efforts from Antoine Walker (17 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds), Kenny Anderson (13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals), and Pierce, were happy to end a two-game losing streak before the Sixers come to town tomorrow.
"We seemed to focus in," said Pierce (22 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks). "That's the key to this ball club's success. If we plan on going far in the playoffs, it's going to have to start with our defense. I thought we did a great job of focusing and concentrating on our half-court defense with quick hands by everybody. It seemed like we were a step faster today on defense, and that's how we've got to play. We've just got to be more consistent in that area and we're going to be a tough team to beat."
It was a combination of Cleveland fatigue and improved Boston defense that broke the game open in the third. Trailing, 47-44, early in the quarter, the Celtics staged an 11-0 run with Walker leading the way. The power forward started the spurt by finding Tony Battie for a driving layup. Then, he grabbed one of his five steals, which tied a season-high. The fast break was finished by a Tony Delk layup. Walker capped the run with a 3-pointer and layup.
But in a game marked by runs, the Cavaliers were bound to respond. They cut their deficit to 3 (55-52) before the Celtics closed the third with a 10-1 run that effectively decided the game. Again, Walker was the ringleader. He started the Boston run with a hook shot. Then, in one impressive sequence, Walker found Rodney Rogers on the break for a 3-pointer. He stole the ball and dished to Pierce for another 3-pointer. Boston entered the final quarter ahead, 65-53.
The Celtics literally sped away from the Cavaliers in the second half, when they amassed 18 of their 25 fast-break points.
"In the third quarter, we stopped our transition game," said Cleveland center Chris Mihm (12 points). "We weren't as crisp. We weren't running the ball as well. We were settling for a lot of shots early in the offense. Rather than moving the ball around, we were relying on our first option, and it wasn't going. They were doing a good job of defending early in the play. We were settling for outside jumpers. If it's not falling, you can fall in a hole real quickly."
Playing its fourth game in five nights, Cleveland had little in reserve for the fourth, and it showed. Meanwhile, the Celtics gathered momentum as soon as the Cavaliers came within 8 (66-58) with 10:13 left. Shortly thereafter, Boston began a 28-6 run that lasted almost the rest of the quarter. When the Celtics finished piling on the points, they owned a game-high 30-point advantage (94-64).
But in the first half - before Pierce even could think about breaking out his comedy routine - the Celtics and Cavaliers subjected 13,433 fans to a show that was more a comedy of errors. The first two quarters were filled with missed shots, as neither team could build a solid advantage.
Boston broke a 29-29 tie in the second by working around the rim. A tip shot from Walker, followed by layups from Anderson and Rogers pushed the Celtics ahead, 35-29. The Cavaliers came back with a 12-0 run behind 3-pointers from Lamond Murray (11 points) and Wesley Person (17 points), taking a 41-35 lead with 1:02 left in the second. Two long-range jumpers from Delk and the Pierce heave allowed Boston to end the first half on a 7-0 run.
"It was an ugly game in the beginning," said Delk (16 points, 6 rebounds). "We had a lot of open shots and we didn't make them. Coach said keep with it at halftime, keep putting shots up because they would eventually fall."
Naturally, Pierce and his bobblehead doll would have to agree.