Saturday, March 07, 2009
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Celtics beat Cavs at home to tighten East race

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[March 07, 2009]  BOSTON (AP) -- Paul Pierce scored 29 points, reserve Leon Powe had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics beat Cleveland 105-94 on Friday night to move within percentage points of the Cavaliers in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Cavaliers (48-13) lead Boston (49-14) in winning percentage .787 to .778, though the Celtics took the lead in the head-to-head tiebreaker, 2-1, with an April 12 game in Cleveland remaining.

Mo Williams scored 26 for Cleveland and LeBron James had 21, shooting just 5-of-15 from the field to go with 9-for-12 from the line. He spent the final minutes on the bench after the Cavaliers couldn't narrow a double-digit deficit.

All-Star forward Kevin Garnett missed his seventh straight game for Boston with a strained knee muscle, and backup Glen "Big Baby" Davis was ejected in the third quarter for a flagrant foul. Powe filled in and reached season highs in both points and rebounds, giving the Celtics a spark with a blocked shot and a basket at the other end that opened a 94-83 lead.

After James missed a 3-pointer, Powe grabbed the rebound and Pierce hit a pair of free throws, then Powe dunked to give the Celtics a 98-83 lead - their biggest of the game.

The home team has won the first three matchups of the season series, and home court could prove even more important if they meet again in the playoffs. Boston eliminated the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year en route to its NBA-record 17th championship; the home team won all seven games in the series.


The crowd noise at tipoff was reminiscent of last spring's playoffs, but nothing in the first half really excited the fans as much as James' missed dunk with 8 minutes left in the first period. Bringing the ball back with for a tomahawk slam, he instead banged it off the back of the rim - to the delight of the sellout crowd.

The intensity returned in the second when the players went chest-to-chest under the Cavs basket after Davis wrapped up Anderson Varejao to prevent an easy layup. James and Ray Allen began jawing at each other while officials tried to separate them. They were each called for technical fouls, as was Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Davis was called for a flagrant foul and ejected - exacerbating Boston's problem at power forward. (All seemed to be forgiven later in the third, when Allen fouled James to stop him from an easy basket; James helped Allen up and gave him a friendly tap on the behind.)

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After the free throws, James hit a 3-pointer and Williams followed with a fadeaway jumper that cut Boston's seven-point lead to 55-54. Cleveland soon made it 57-all, but Pierce hit a jumper before Allen hit a 3-pointer and then scored on a breakaway, losing the handle of the ball only to have it bounce off James and back into Allen's hands for the reverse layup.

Boston led 68-63 when Pierce hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it an 11-point game.

Notes:@ It was the first time in NBA history that two teams leading their divisions by at least 17 games had met. ... Joe Smith, who was traded last summer in the deal that brought Williams to Cleveland, returned after buying out his contract with Oklahoma City and re-signing with the Cavs on Thursday. ... Cleveland forward Ben Wallace missed his fifth straight game with a broken right fibula. ... Cleveland shot 38 free throws to 12 for Boston. ... James went 13:11 between field goals as the score went from 55-52 to 88-77.

[Associated Press; By JIMMY GOLEN]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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