NBA: Cavaliers 98, Celtics 83
Published 12:00 am Friday, January 9, 2009
CLEVELAND ó For days, LeBron James insisted facing the NBA champions in January was no ordinary regular-season game.
He and his teammates proved it.
James scored 38 points, harassed Paul Pierce all over the floor and strengthened his case to be the league’s MVP front-runner as the Cleveland Cavaliers improved to 19-0 at home by beating the staggering Boston Celtics 98-83 Friday night in a game oozing with postseason intensity.
James scored 23 in the second half. He added seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocks.
After the Cavs had built their lead to a comfortable 20 points in the second half, Cleveland fans began chanting “M-V-P!”
There was no debate this night.
With James leading the way, the Cavaliers handed the Celtics their second-worst loss of the season and dropped them to 2-7 since opening 27-2. Boston had to resort to fouling Ben Wallace to try to trim Cleveland’s lead in the fourth, but the Hack-A-Ben strategy was hardly effective as Cleveland’s forward, a 44 percent free-throw shooter, dropped 4-of-8 free throws in a two-minute stretch.
When he was taken out, Wallace shot a menacing stare toward Boston coach Doc Rivers.
Pierce, who came in averaging 19.5 points, was held to 11 on 4-of-15 shooting. Boston’s leading scorer only got into double digits when James turned him over to Wally Szczerbiak in the fourth. Before that, James wouldn’t let Pierce get out of his sight, chasing up, down and around the 94-foot court.
Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 15 rebounds, and Rajon Rondo added 13 assists for the Celtics, who shot only 41 percent from the floor and didn’t have their usual swagger.
Anderson Varejao scored 14 points and Mo Williams 13 for Cleveland, which avenged a season-opening road loss to the Celtics despite playing without injured center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.