C's Move to 44-12 with Win over Cavs


C's Move to 44-12 with Win over Cavs

Barely 24 hours after returning from a long Western trip, the weary Celtics gutted out a key conference victory last night.

In its first home game in two weeks, Boston defeated the new-look Cavaliers, 92-87, in front of a sellout crowd at TD Banknorth Garden. The Celtics (44-12) won their sixth straight at home and third straight overall. The Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers (32-26) and Celtics, who could meet in the postseason, split the four-game season series.

The Celtics returned from a 2-3 trip Tuesday around 6 p.m. To give his players extra rest, coach Doc Rivers canceled the shootaround yesterday morning and had a walkthrough prior to the game.

Guard Ray Allen scored a team-high 22 points, while forward Kevin Garnett added 18 points and 11 rebounds. Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who sprained his right ankle in the first half, scored a game-high 26 points.

The Cavaliers acquired forward-center Ben Wallace, ex-Celtics Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak, and forward Joe Smith prior to the trading deadline. And prior to the game, there were a lot of smiles in the Cleveland locker room, the new Cavaliers happy to get out of their previous situations.

"Coming from not playing at all [in Seattle] to being the starting [point guard] over here on a championship-caliber team, it definitely wants to make you put your all out on the floor and show this franchise that they made a good decision taking a chance on me," West said.

Said Szczerbiak: "I'm not shooting great since I got here because I'm not used to being so wide open."

In the process, Cleveland dealt away forward Drew Gooden and guard Larry Hughes to the Bulls. Celtic Scot Pollard, who played with the Cavaliers last season, when they won the Eastern Conference title, did not agree with Cleveland's moves.

"I'm a huge Drew Gooden fan," Pollard said. "He's underpaid, first of all. He's quirky, no question about it. Sometimes there are clashes with him and the coaching staff. But I'd live with it. I'd live with the double-double without having to run plays for the guy and deal with the other stuff. He's a great teammate.

"I know Ben Wallace. I know what he does. And to me, I wouldn't have given up Drew Gooden for what Ben Wallace does. It's so much more money [with Wallace], and you're locked into a $60 million contract. I just think they gave up too much to get Ben Wallace. Nothing against Ben Wallace, but knowing Cleveland, the team was working well enough."

The Celtics were without guard Tony Allen (strained right calf), but forward Brian Scalabrine was back in uniform after missing the last five games with a strained right groin.

Boston finished the first quarter with a 25-16 lead after shooting 52.6 percent. Cleveland shot 31.3 percent in the quarter, but got 10 points (5 on free throws) from James.

James, however, sprained his ankle when he landed on Paul Pierce's foot during a lay-in that trimmed Cleveland's deficit to 37-27 with 4:26 left in the half. After a layup at the other end by Kendrick Perkins, the Cavaliers called a timeout, and James limped to the locker room while the crowd cheered. Without James, the Cavaliers finished the half with a 13-8 run to trim their deficit to 47-40. X-rays on James's ankle were negative. He had a game-high 15 points in the half and returned after the break.

James showed he was feeling just fine when he dunked hard with 4:54 left in the third quarter to slice Cleveland's deficit to 63-54. Leon Powe made an athletic lay-in with 41.2 seconds left in the quarter to give the Celtics a 73-60 lead, and was fouled by James in the process. At that point, normally mild-mannered Cavaliers coach Mike Brown came onto the floor to argue with referee Mark Ayotte. Ayotte immediately tossed Brown from the game. Ray Allen made the technical free throw, Powe completed the 3-point play, and Boston finished the third with a 75-62 lead, limiting the Cavaliers to 36.5 percent shooting.

Two James free throws with 8:36 left in the fourth quarter brought Cleveland within 78-68. Two Pierce free throws put Boston up, 86-70, with 4:34 left. A West lay-in with 1:27 remaining sliced Cleveland's deficit to 90-80. Another West lay-in brought the Cavaliers within 90-82. But Garnett sealed the win with 35.2 seconds left with a jumper that pushed the lead back to 10 (92-82).

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