Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Celtics' streak alive at five

Pierce picks apart James, Cavaliers

CLEVELAND -- Rookies will err, no matter how much money they earn or how many shoes, souvenirs, or sundries they sell.


The Celtics capitalized on a LeBron James turnover in the final seconds, a Paul Pierce steal and foul shot sealing a 105-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night at Gund Arena. On the Cavaliers' final meaningful possession, James committed a rookie mistake, allowing Pierce to jab away his dribble at the 3-point line, Pierce then converted a free throw for a 103-98 advantage with 12 seconds to play.

That was Pierce's fourth steal and 41st point as the Celtics improved their winning streak to five games. James had a career-high 37 points just 17 days before his 19th birthday.

"[James] was getting a lot of calls and I thought if I had a chance to guard him that [the officials] would give either one of us the benefit of the doubt and just let two of the best players on their teams play," Pierce said. "That's what it is all about. Their player is on and I'm feeling good and he had an opportunity to get his team back in the game. I just wanted to step up on the defensive end because he's been having a great night all night shooting the ball. He's a spectacular rookie and I've never seen anything like that from a high school kid. He's a great kid."

Pierce, who also had nine rebounds and six assists, took control of this contest early, his jumper giving the Celtics a 10-9 lead with 7:55 remaining in the first quarter. The Cavaliers made several rallies but never overcame that advantage.

The Celtics' quickness inside, plus the late perimeter shooting of Pierce, Mike James, and Jiri Welsch made the difference.

"Paul has been brilliant," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "He's really become a heck of a threat, not only with scoring but in passing and rebounding.

"Paul can really sit down on defense and when the game is on the line, Paul has a lot of experience in tight games and he really stepped up at the defensive end and flicked that away [from James] and was able to get possession. Paul wanted to play LeBron and we let him do it. We generally try not to have Paul on their top scorer until late in the game, that's when we'll be willing to expend the energy of [Pierce], when the game is on the line."

But the Celtics also required clutch shooting from other players.

Mike James's second-chance bank shot extended the Celtic lead to 93-90 with 4:55 to play, then he connected on four foul shots in the final 24 seconds of the contest.

Welsch appeared to have lost his touch after sitting out most of the second half with four personal fouls, missing wildly with an airball 3-point attempt in the final minutes. But he connected on a second-chance 3-pointer for a 100-94 lead with 1:20 to go. And the Celtics would not require another point, their defense limiting Cleveland to one field goal in the final 4:04 of the game.

The Celtics failed to convert on a 37-second possession before LeBron James cut the Cleveland deficit to 100-98 with less than 28 seconds remaining. Mike James hit two free throws three seconds later and Pierce sealed the result on the Cavaliers' next possession.

After Welsch departed early in the third quarter, the Celtics' offense began to struggle. Pierce was the only Celtic to convert from the field in an 11:06 span, following Welsch's drive for a 67-57 advantage with 7:44 left in the third quarter. Pierce found Kedrick Brown for a dunk and an 89-82 lead with 8:38 remaining in the game. But the Cavaliers rallied on a 3-pointer by James, 3 points by Carlos Boozer, and a Darius Miles follow dunk to pull within 91-90 with 5:30 to play.

But the Celtics controlled this contest for long periods of time. They shut down the Cleveland perimeter game early, blanking every Cavalier except center Zydrunas Ilgauskas for a 4:49 stretch of the first quarter. The Celtics limited the Cavaliers to one field goal in the final 4:59 of the first half, one field goal in the final 4:09 of the game.

"I knew they were collapsing on me and I was just trying to find guys as they flashed open," Pierce said. "I have to have confidence in those guys and they have to be able to step up and they did."

last game
Last game / Sat. at Cleveland
 Game log
Next game
Monday vs. Minnesota at the FleetCenter, 7:00 p.m.
atlantic div. standings
  W L Pct. GB
Philadelphia 12 11 .522 --
Boston 12 12 .500 0.5
New Jersey 11 12 .478 1.0
New York 8 16 .333 4.5
Miami 7 15 .318 4.5
Washington 7 15 .318 4.5
Orlando 4 20 .167 8.5
Globe Archives Sale
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months