CLEVELAND -- The Celtics and successful comebacks do not often go together. Ricky Davis and Cleveland do not often go well together.
Some things just take a little extra time.
Behind exemplary play and a rallying cry from Davis, the Celtics climbed back from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit and forced overtime last night at Gund Arena. Relying on free throws and a momentum-shifting blocked shot by Davis along with the disqualification of LeBron James in overtime, Boston pulled out a 114-107 victory. The Celtics' fourth win in five games and second dramatic overtime rally in less than a week showed them to be a group gradually coming together in a way that should put the rest of the Atlantic Division, if not the Eastern Conference, on notice. After all, Boston defeated a Cleveland team that owns the second-best record in the East and had not lost at home since its season opener.
"Even when we were down, you could see our guys every time we cut it to 10 or 8 [points] saying, `We can get this. We can get this,' " said coach Doc Rivers. "No one folded."
Taking advantage of the fact that Cleveland headed down the stretch with four starters in foul trouble, Boston stayed aggressive and gradually gained ground. The Celtics staged an 9-0 run to close within 2 points. Boston took its first lead of the second half, 102-100, when Paul Pierce sent a perfect bounce pass to Raef LaFrentz as he cut through the paint to the basket. LaFrentz scored easily with 1 minute 43 seconds remaining.
James tied it, 102-102, with 40.4 seconds left in regulation, but the superstar missed an opportunity to put his team back on top when he tried to launch a 5-footer into a barrier of Boston arms. On the other end, the Celtics squandered their last chance to go ahead when an overanxious Pierce threw the ball too far ahead for Gary Payton and committed a turnover.
Reflecting on the play, Rivers joked that he's "always telling Paul to make the extra pass." And for most of the contest, Boston did exactly that, finding the open man and staying with its unselfish, uptempo offensive style as Rivers rotated in a variety of players searching for the combination that would work best. The Celtics generally managed to stay with their strategy even as they fell behind. They were rewarded when Zydrunas Ilgauskas hit the top of the backboard with a 18-footer at the end of regulation that would have won the contest.
"We're starting to learn from our mistakes," said Pierce (34 points). "We're starting to learn what's losing games for us. We're starting to do what it takes to win. We know we can score, so if we can go out there and defend every night at a high level, then we're going to be a tough team to beat."
In overtime, jumpers by James against defense supplied by Davis gave Cleveland the early lead. Boston kept pace from the line with free throws from Pierce and LaFrentz. Then, Davis started a series of plays with a defensive stop that changed the course of the extra session when he blocked a 15-footer by James. The block led to a jump ball between the former teammates, which Davis won. On the other end, James collided with Pierce, picked up his sixth personal and exited the contest with 1:31 remaining.
Coming out of the ensuing timeout, Pierce drove to the basket only to have his shot blocked. Davis collected the loose ball and quickly dished to Payton on the left wing. Payton nailed a 3-pointer, which pushed the Celtics ahead for the first time in overtime, 109-107, and represented the visitors' only field goal (1 for 5) of the extra session. Free throws by Payton and LaFrentz sealed the victory for the Celtics.
"It was a great block," said Davis (14 points), who was booed by the crowd of 18,904 throughout the contest. "[James] made a couple shots on me. I just sat on it. I had to get a stop. It's a great win. We've been kind of lacking in the fourth quarters mentally and losing leads and stuff. It shows great steps . . . I've been thinking about [coming back to Cleveland] all year and I'll be thinking about it until the next time. I've had some good times here, so I get a little excited. Just me doing good, that's all I have to prove."
All the Celtics' hard work throughout the first half went to waste during the third. The team that played together for two quarters and trailed, 57-54, at halftime began to unravel. After Pierce picked up where he left off on offense and opened the third with a fastbreak layup and brought Boston within 1, the Cavaliers staged an 11-2 run and took their first double-digit advantage of the game, 68-58. Cleveland would lead by as many as 16 (82-66) after a driving layup by James with 2:25 left in the third.
"I just have to give Boston some credit," said James (31 points), who fouled out for the first time in his career. "They played their hearts out. We were not supposed to lose this game. [After he fouled out, the Cavaliers] had a great defensive stand and the ball just popped out and Gary was able to knock down a wide-open three."