Celtics 104, Cavaliers 86

Celtics utilize big advantage

They hold on to lead and tie series

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 4, 2010

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CLEVELAND — No lead is safe. Chewing up and spitting out Boston’s leads in the regular season and in the first game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Cavaliers had made that clear.

The Celtics needed to prove to themselves and the Cavs that some leads were indeed insurmountable. So, they piled it as high as they could. Ray Allen fired arrows at the rim. The Celtics suffocated the Cavs for 45 minutes, and the whistles that had gone Cleveland’s way early started to blow in favor of the Celtics.

The Celtics’ lead ballooned to 25 points with 9:07 left after Kevin Garnett put back his own miss. The margin seemed too big and time seemed too slim.

The witnesses that showered LeBron James with cheers as he accepted the MVP award before tipoff last night headed for home. They missed the Cavs deconstruct the Celtics’ lead in minutes, going on a 15-0 run with James and J.J. Hickson leading the charge.

“We were stuck on 91 points for an hour it felt like,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I just kept telling our guys ‘the clock is still moving.’ We need one bucket. We just need somebody to make one shot.’ ’’

Paul Pierce got a finger roll to go with 3:28 left and by the time Garnett drained a 19-footer with 1:14 remaining the Celtics could let down their guard. They had finally built a lead the Cavs couldn’t recover from. At that point, the remaining fans began to clear out, refusing to watch the Celtics finish off a 104-86 Game 2 victory.

After letting a winnable series opener slip away, the Celtics left Cleveland with a split with three days to rest before the series resumes Friday.

“We knew what happened last time when we let up,’’ said Kendrick Perkins. “Doc said we’ve got to keep taking punches. When they throw punches we’ve got to take them and keep coming.’’

Allen’s 22 points had taken the air out of the Q Arena. He took just two shots in the fourth quarter of the Game 1 loss, and Rivers stressed the importance of getting Allen open.

He weaved around the court for 39 minutes. Cleveland tried to chase him with as many bodies as possible — James, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Delonte West — but they couldn’t stop him from drilling 8 of 15 shots and nailing 3 of 7 3-pointers.

In his ongoing quest to erase Bob Cousy from the Celtics’ record book, Rajon Rondo set the franchise’s postseason record for assists in a game with 19, tying the 19 he put up in triple overtime against Chicago in the first round last season.

The Celtics shot 51.3 from the floor and held the Cavs to 40 percent. They kept James boxed in most of the night, allowing him just five first-half shots and holding him to a modest 24 points.

Rasheed Wallace, who Rivers said “has to be better,’’ responded with his biggest game of the postseason. He had a team-high 13 points at the break and was a perfect 5 for 5 from the floor (and 3 for 3 on 3-pointers) with two rebounds.

The Celtics piled up a lead despite turnovers and the officials early on.

The Cavs shot just 42.1 percent in the first half, but the Celtics kept finding ways to put the ball back in Cleveland’s hands.

The Celtics turned it over 19 times for 23 points. The Celtics were whistled for 16 fouls in the first half compared with Cleveland’s four. The Cavs went the entire second quarter without a foul, and from West’s foul late in the first quarter to James’s foul in the third, the Cavs went 19 minutes 26 seconds without having a whistle blown against them.

That the Cavs would make a run was a given. How the Celtics would respond was the challenge.

“We knew they were going to make a run because they’re at home and they’re a good team,’’ said Garnett. “But I thought we withstood that and made a run of our own and shut the game down after that.’’

When the focus withered and the Celtics looked as if they’d give back a lead they spent three quarters building, a light bulb went on.

“When we went up, we kind of relaxed like we were surprised that we were up,’’ said Glen Davis, who scored 6 points in 13 minutes. “We’ve got to know that we’re a great team. We’ve got to know that we’re a team that can play with this team, the Cavaliers. We can’t give them any hope. We can’t give them any sunlight. We’ve got to let them know we’re going to beat them.’’

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