Shaq hurts thumb as Cavs crush Celtics
LeBron James had 36 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, Mo
Williams scored 14 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and the
Cleveland Cavaliers surged past the Boston Celtics 108-88 on
James kept the Cavaliers in it for three quarters on a night they lost Shaquille O'Neal to a first-half thumb injury, then Williams made four 3-pointers when Cleveland blew by the Celtics in the fourth, outscoring them 35-14.
Unable to stop Rajon Rondo or the Celtics in the first quarter, the Cavaliers turned up the defense in the fourth, limiting the Celtics to three baskets.
Ray Allen scored 21 points, and Rondo had 19 points and 11 assists for the Celtics, who badly missed injured All-Star Paul Pierce (right thumb) when their offense went stagnant in the final 1 1/2 quarters.
Cleveland improved to 20-10 on the road, tying Boston for the best in the NBA, and avenged a 95-89 home loss on opening night.
That came back when Boston looked like the class of the Eastern Conference while the Cavaliers struggled early. But the Celtics have been unable to stay healthy and Cleveland has left the Celtics and everyone else in the East behind, opening a 5 1/2-game lead over Orlando while dropping Boston 7 1/2 games back in a tie with Atlanta.
This game followed a similar path. Boston was much better early inside a rocking TD Garden, but most of the green-clad fans were gone before the final minutes after the deeper Cavaliers wore them down.
Cleveland outscored Boston 60-32 in the second half, allowing just five baskets in the final 17 1/2 minutes.
The Cavaliers trailed for nearly all the first three quarters, then quickly took control in the fourth. Williams' basket gave them the lead for good at 79-78 with 9:13 to play, and he drilled consecutive 3-pointers to extend it to 93-83 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining.
James had the next four points to make it a 14-point game in another big night against the NBA's most storied franchise. He came in averaging 30.2 points against Boston, just shy of Michael Jordan's 30.7 mark for best in NBA history.
He had to do a little extra after O'Neal appeared to be hurt when Celtics forward Glen Davis whacked his hand while trying to block a shot with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter. O'Neal left for good about 30 seconds later, and the report said he had a "significant" right thumb sprain.
And they are without a backup center for now after trading Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Washington before the trade deadline. The Wizards waived Ilgauskas on Thursday after reaching agreement on a buyout, and he could decide to rejoin his former teammates after waiting the mandatory 30 days.
Cleveland had struggled defensively since the trade, a pattern that continued Thursday. The Celtics made 10 of their first 13 shots (77 percent), with Rondo making five of the baskets and assisting on the other five. His layup with 33 seconds left gave Boston a 31-21 lead after one quarter.
Newcomer Nate Robinson got into the lane just as easily as Rondo and scored six quick points in the second, including a 3-pointer that extended the lead to 40-27 with 9:46 remaining in the half. The lead was still double digits after Allen nailed two 3s late in the half, and Boston carried a 56-48 lead into the break.
Cleveland's defense finally arrived after halftime. The Cavaliers limited the Celtics to 6-of-20 shooting in the third quarter, trimming the lead to 74-73 after James made a free throw with 0.4 seconds left, giving him 11 points in the period.
NOTES: Former Celtics forward Leon Powe made his season debut to a nice ovation in the final minute of the first half. He was a key reserve on the Celtics' championship team, but tore the ACL in his left knee during last season's playoffs and wasn't re-signed. He was signed by the Cavs in August and made a surprising appearance on the court Thursday, because coach Mike Brown said before the game he didn't have minutes for Powe right now. ... O'Neal and Davis, former LSU players, chatted before the game in the Cleveland locker room. Davis informed O'Neal that the Tigers were no longer winless in the SEC, having beaten Arkansas on Wednesday. ... The teams meet again in Cleveland on March 14 and the Cavaliers return to Boston on April 4.