Cavaliers’ spirits take a big hit

Poor effort leaves fans in foul mood

By Duane Rankin
Globe Correspondent / May 4, 2010

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CLEVELAND – The night started well for the Cavaliers.

NBA commissioner David Stern handed LeBron James the Most Valuable Player trophy at center court before a charged up, sellout crowd of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena.

By the end of the third quarter, many of those same fans were heading out the door.

The Celtics had taken their team to task and were up by as many as 25 points in a 104-86 win in Game 2 to even up the Eastern Conference semifinals series.

“They were more physical than us,’’ Cleveland coach Mike Brown said in intensely emotional fashion. “We have to bring more fight to the table. We have to be tougher than we were tonight if we expect to win this series.’’

Seeing the Cavaliers come to life and pull within 10 twice in the fourth didn’t make Brown feel better.

“Ain’t a thing going to be given to us at all in this series,’’ Brown said. “We’ve got to come out and fight better than we did.’’

The top-seeded Cavaliers will have three days to think about how to regain home-court advantage. Game 3 isn’t until Friday night in Boston.

“We know what we have to do,’’ Cleveland center Shaquille O’Neal said. “We have to go up there and either get one or two. We’ll be ready.’’

As in Game 1, the Cavaliers found themselves down at the half, 52-48, but since they erased an 11-point halftime deficit in Saturday’s win, there seemed no reason to panic.

Then the second half began and it got worse in a hurry.

The Celtics outscored the Cavaliers, 31-12, in the third quarter to build a commanding 83-60 lead. Boston shot 58.8 percent from the field, and were 3 of 6 from 3-point range.

“We’ve just got to play better defense,’’ O’Neal said. “We can’t keep allowing their shooters to get open.’’

In contrast, the Cavaliers were 5 of 16 from the field in the quarter.

“That’s one of the worst quarters we’ve had offensively or defensively,’’ James said.

Cleveland rarely finds itself in these situations because it has the two-time MVP in James. He often bails the Cavaliers out.

Called the closer by his teammates, James didn’t do so in this game.

James scored 16 of his team-high 24 points in the second half, but only took 15 shots from the field for the game and didn’t play with the same forceful nature that inspires his teammates.

In Game 1, James had 21 second-half points on 8-of-14 shooting.

James never grabbed for his injured right elbow, but he didn’t look like the same person who scored 35 points in Saturday’s 101-93 win.

“We never use an injury as an excuse,’’ James said. “Like I said before, if I’m on the court, I try to be as productive as possible.’’

Seeing him spilled out on the court under the trapping defense of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and turning the ball over in the third quarter was a sign of the inevitable.

The Cavaliers weren’t going to come back.

They tried though.

Down, 91-66, with 9:08 left, the Cavaliers went on a 15-0 run to close the gap to 91-81. Cleveland scored 9 of those points from the free throw line.

“That’s the worst way to give up a lead without the clock running,’’ Allen said. “We had to eliminate the fouls.’’

After initially cutting the lead to 10 on a pair of Delonte West free throws, James got it back down to that same margin on a driving layup with 3:13 left.

Drawing a foul from Rasheed Wallace, James missed the free throw.

Rajon Rondo and Allen answered with consecutive buckets to begin restoring order for the Celtics as they closed out the game on an 11-3 run.

“Once we got our bearings, we got some good plays in the post and took control of the game,’’ Allen said.

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