Celtics take Game 1
By Jimmy Golen
BOSTON ó LeBron James drove to the basket, the lane surprisingly clear. He reached out toward the rim, rolled the ball off his fingertips …
Again and again ó and one more time, when it was too late anyway ó Jamesí shots went awry in the final minute, completing one of the worst nights of his career and giving the Boston Celtics a 76-72 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Game 2 is Thursday night in Boston.
iThis was two heavyweights just body-punching,î said Kevin Garnett, who scored 28 points to make up for an off night for the rest of Bostonís Big Three. iThere was no finesse, no jabs, just an all-out, beat-down, defensive fight.î
Boston held James to 12 points on 2-for-18 shooting, and only once in his career has he made fewer baskets. He missed three drives and a 3-pointer in the final minute, including the potential game-tying finger roll with 8.5 seconds left.
iI missed a lot of shots I know I can make,î James said as he looked at the stat sheet incredulously after scoring just two points in the second half and missing his last six shots in all. I missed layups. Those layups Iíve made my whole life.î
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen of the Celtics werenít doing any bragging, either. Pierce scored four points on 2-for-14 shooting, and Allen was 0-for-4 from the field for his first scoreless performance in his last 852 games since 1997.
Combined, they matched the dud James put out there miss-for-miss.
iMe and Ray, we figure if we play him to a standstill … we give ourselves the best chance,î Pierce said. iHe is not going to go 2-for-18 every game but, hey, weíre going to do our best to try to make him.î
At least Pierce could smile about it.
Despite the worst offensive playoff performance of his career, he drew two charging fouls against James and the Celtics protected the home-court advantage that helped win their first-round series against Atlanta in seven games.
They can thank Garnett, who finished third in the MVP voting announced Tuesday, behind winner Kobe Bryant and runner-up Chris Paul. James finished fourth.
iThat is why we have three superstars,î said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who had 12 rebounds.
And Cleveland only has one.
Only once has James made fewer than two baskets ó in a Dec. 29, 2004 game against Houston when he missed all five shots in just 17 minutes. iI fractured my cheekbone,î he said immediately when asked about it.
Heíll remember this one, too.
James scored Clevelandís first basket and then missed his next 10 shots before driving for a layup that cut Bostonís lead to 66-65 with 5:34 left. He finished with nine rebounds, nine assists and 10 turnovers.
iHe had a tough night, and he is entitled to it,î Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. iKnowing him, he will definitely bounce back in Game 2.î
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who shot 31 percent and couldnít make a basket at the end of the game.
Boston led 68-65 when Daniel Gibson hit a 3-pointer to tie it with 3:18 left.
Ilgauskas made a jumper on a feed from James with 90 seconds left, then Garnett hit a fallaway to make it 70-all. James drove against Pierce and flopped to the court while throwing up a desperation layup that wasnít close.
Sam Cassell made two free throws to tie it at 72-all; James missed again, but this time Ilgauskas was there to tip it in and tie the game. Garnett moved across the lane and scored to give Boston the lead back as Cleveland called a timeout with 22 seconds left.
James dribbled at the point before finding a lane to the basket, but his shot wouldnít fall and James Posey was fouled after grabbing the rebound. He hit both free throws.