|LeBron James has a clear path for a dunk, and Kevin Garnett has a clear view of it. (AARON JOSEFCZYK/Reuters)|
CLEVELAND - The Celtics put an end to one streak last night - they weren't the third straight team to be abused by LeBron James to the point of a triple-double. But James still put together a rather impressive line - 38 points, 13 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks - and nearly outscored the Celtics all by himself in overtime, as the Cavaliers pinned the second loss of the season on the Celtics, taking a 109-104 decision before a sellout crowd of 20,652 at Quicken Loans Arena.
If Saturday's win over Charlotte was a gift - and it was - then the Celtics, in the spirit of the season, regifted last night. They feel they gave it away in regulation and then simply were overpowered by James in the OT.
There's something to be said for that line of thinking. Ray Allen, who was 59 of 63 from the line for the season, boinged two freebies with the score tied and 23.1 seconds remaining in regulation. Kevin Garnett's streak of double-doubles ended with a (for him) meager 5-rebound submission. Rajon Rondo may have to go back to his headband; he was 1 of 9 and missed two shots badly in overtime.
"We had plenty of opportunities," lamented coach Doc Rivers. "Our execution was not very good. We didn't get the ball where we wanted to. We had a 3-point lead, went for a steal, and that led to a three. A lot of things we can learn from this game."
The loss ended a three-game winning streak and dropped the Celtics to a still-otherworldly 11-2. The Cavs, with James playing otherworldly, have won four straight.
In his previous two games, James had 67 points, 22 assists, and 23 rebounds. He was never close to another triple-double last night, but his 13 assists helped guys like Drew Gooden (season-high 24) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (15 points).
Gooden made nine straight shots at one point, including all eight in a 16-point third quarter. The Cavaliers also outrebounded the Celtics, 47-40, while shooting 48 percent, well above what the Celtics usually allow.
"We're a better team than we showed," said Garnett, who had 19 points, 5 assists, and 3 blocks.
The Celtics spent the better part of the last two days talking about wanting to replicate what the Cavaliers did last season. But Rivers, while liking all the glowing talk around the team, reminded everyone that the Cavs had actually done it.
"They've proven they can get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs," he said. "They've won together. We haven't won a thing together. All we've proven is that we can make some summer acquisitions."
The Celtics started slowly, trailing by 12 in the first quarter. They got the lead at the half, lost it in the third, but were up by 3 with 2:02 left following one of Allen's patented stop-and-float jobs.
Then came a defensive breakdown, allowing Sasha Pavlovic to drain a game-tying three. The Celtics had fought back from their early hole in large part with the 3-pointer; they had 10 in the game, although three came in a stretch of 20 seconds at the end, when the outcome was decided.
Then Allen, who is money at the line, was fouled by Pavlovic (who appeared to make a good defensive play).
He missed the first.
"I was so surprised I missed the first," said Allen, who led Boston with 29 points, 15 of them from international waters.
He was even more shocked to miss the second.
"I feel like I let the team down," he said. "That was the difference in the game."
Said Garnett, "I'll take Ray Allen at the line any time. Just one of those nights."
James (11 of 25 from the field) then missed one of those macho jumpers at the end of regulation, with Paul Pierce trying to guard him alone on the perimeter and eight other guys on the floor along for the ride. Then, on the first possession of OT, James blew by everyone, muscled his way in for a layup, and the Cavs never trailed the rest of the way.
Asked about James's dominance, Pierce said, "He has to do that for them to win games. He's got the ball in his hands 90 percent of the time. He's making those other guys better. He's aggressive. He goes to the hole. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense. And the other guys get their confidence from him."
James ended up with 11 in the OT. His second (and last) basket in extra innings was a monster trey, which gave the Cavaliers a 99-95 lead. It also started a game-deciding 6-0 run from which the Celtics simply couldn't recover. Cleveland shot 60 percent in OT, knocked down 10 of 12 free throws (James made all six of his), and controlled the glass.
"It's definitely a big win," James said. "Holding a high-powered offense like that to 43 percent shooting is pretty good."
Asked if it could be a statement game of any kind, James said, "It's November. There are no statement wins in November."
Peter May can be reached at email@example.com.