Paul Pierce might have best described the Celtics' second-round playoff series against the Cavaliers by saying it was like a roller coaster.
And if everything goes right for the Celtics tomorrow night, they will complete this part of their wild ride with their hands high, with big smiles, and ready for more in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics moved within one win of eliminating the Cavaliers by holding on for a 96-89 victory last night at TD Banknorth Garden.
"You know how when you're on that roller coaster and you go through that loop? Now we are going through that loop, so we're on the high right now," Pierce said. "We can't get too high, we said that all year long. Take the good with the good and the bad with the bad, at the same time we like to keep it even keel.
"We know we've got our work cut out for us as we go out here on the road and try to close it out, which is the most im portant thing to us right now. It's a good win for us to take the lead right here, it's a good home win, so enjoy it tonight. But starting tomorrow we've got to work on somehow, some way closing out this series."
The Celtics own a 3-2 series lead and can end the reigning conference champions' season with a win in Game 6 tomorrow night in Cleveland. Boston is now 7-0 at home and 0-5 on the road this season. The Celtics are also 0-4 this season in Cleveland.
The Detroit Pistons await the winner of this series.
"Close-out games are always the hardest," said Ray Allen (11 points). "The team is going to fight, the building is going to be behind [them]."
When asked if the Cavaliers feel a sense of desperation, LeBron James said, "A LeBron James team is never desperate."
The Celtics received double-doubles from Kevin Garnett (26 points, 16 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (20 points, 13 assists). Pierce added 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. James scored 23 of his game-high 35 points in the first half.
Last night marked the first time in the series the Celtics reached 90 points, as they shot 48.1 percent and nailed five 3-pointers.
"A lot of great efforts," said coach Doc Rivers. "Rajon Rondo was fantastic tonight."
James averaged an NBA-best 30 points during the regular season, but he averaged 18.8 points and shot 25.6 percent in the first four games of the series. Last night, James rolled in the first half and scored just 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting after the break.
"As an individual, I don't care how well I play offensively," James said. "If you don't win, that's all that matters to me."
The Cavaliers led, 35-22, after a Daniel Gibson lay-in with 7:36 left in the second quarter. Back-to-back Rondo 3-pointers, however, trimmed the Celtics' deficit to 43-37 with 1:56 left. The Celtics finished the half with a 21-11 run to trail, 46-43.
"Offensively, Rondo hit some big shots for us," Garnett said. "Guys are scoring, guys were in the flow. Then we carried it over into the third quarter."
The momentum turned in the Celtics' favor for good at the beginning of the third quarter. After a steal, Allen's jumper 17 seconds into the period trimmed Boston's deficit to 46-45. Rondo's lay-in after a steal gave Boston a 48-46 lead. Pierce's strong baseline dunk gave Boston a 69-58 lead with 1:46 left, as the Celtics went on to finish the quarter ahead, 72-63.
"Defensively, they turned up the pressure," James said.
The Celtics went ahead, 88-77, on a floating jumper by Rondo with 3:38 remaining. The Cavaliers, however, used a 10-3 run capped by two free throws by Delonte West with 45.5 seconds left to trim their deficit to 91-87. But the Celtics made their free throws to hang on.
"Big win for us. We'll take it," said Rivers.
The Celtics are hopeful that the next time they play in the Garden, the Pistons, and not the Cavaliers, will be the opponents.
"I don't know when we will get one, but we have Game 6; if not, we come back here to the Garden and we just keep playing," said Rivers of his team's difficulty in getting a road win. "We won't change anything. It won't affect us. We just keep playing."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org