LeBron James rallies Cavaliers past Celtics in Game 1, 101-93
Sunday, May 2, 2010
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James shimmied, whirled the ball right to left, then stepped back to launch a three-pointer. James watched the shot splash through the net, then ran back toward his bench, giggling the entire way as his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates jumped into him, crowded him and hugged him.
The giddy reaction was understandable, considering James's jumper had just clinched a 101-93 victory on Saturday at Quicken Loans arena. But the laughter may have also been because James had done enough -- from shooting left-handed hooks and playing more in the low post than the perimeter -- to fool the Celtics into believing that there seriously was something wrong with his right elbow.
The Celtics no longer have those concerns, after James scored 12 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter, as the Cavaliers took a one-to-nothing lead in this best-of-seven second-round series. "I think the elbow is fine," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. "I'm pretty sure of it, actually."
This was a rematch of the memorable conference semifinal that the Celtics won in seven games on their path to a 17th NBA championship two seasons ago. The teams were unable to get together last season, with Orlando eliminating both teams to win the Eastern Conference. But the Celtics and Cavaliers have managed to maintain a level of disdain and respect for each other in their subsequent regular season clashes. James admitted before the game that the postseason loss to Boston "stuck with me for a little bit, but it's been gone. This is a team that's been good the last three years and we're trying to get on their level."
James certainly has a much better supporting cast than two years ago, with the Cavaliers adding Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison, among others, since that meeting. And Williams and O'Neal were instrumental in helping the Cavaliers overcome an 11-point second-half deficit to take out the Celtics.
Williams scored 14 of his 20 points in the third quarter, when the Cavaliers closed the period on a game-changing 21-9 run. O'Neal added six of his 11 points in the final period to set the stage for James's closing act.
"Anytime you have help, and I've had it all year, it's something I never worry about -- guys stepping up their game," said James, who added seven rebounds and seven assists.
James will be announced as the 10th back-to-back league's most valuable player on Sunday in Akron, but he entered the series answering questions about a strained right elbow, which forced him to shoot a left-handed free throw in the final seconds of their close-out win over the Chicago Bulls. He had rested the elbow for three days, but said he decided not to take a cortisone shot because "I do not like needles."
The elbow was put to the test early on, as James forced a steal and was alone for a breakaway dunk. Instead of one of his vicious one-handed slams, James dropped the ball gently with both hands, guiding it in mostly with his left.
James only took two shots in the first half from outside the paint -- a jumper that missed badly and a desperation air ball three-pointer that led to a shot-clock violation. He was assertive in attacking the basket; scoring when he was able to have a straight line toward the hoop and missing when he attempted to make jump hooks in the low post. James missed six of his 10 shot attempts but was 6 for 7 from the foul line.
With James playing passively, the Celtics were able to build a comfortable lead behind the play of Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. Rondo had his way with the Cavaliers' defense in the first three quarters, as he needled his way through the holes to set up his teammates for open shots or blew past whoever was in front of him for layups. He had 24 points and 10 assists in his first 30 minutes on the floor.
Garnett also seemed especially charged in the first half, as he scored 10 of his 18 points, driving inside for a powerful slam, backing down former Wizard Antawn Jamison for layups and stepping back for long jumpers.
The Celtics attacked Williams on defense, with Rondo going at him until Williams switched to guard Ray Allen, who made three-pointers on consecutive possessions to give his team a 69-58 lead.
Williams finally got upset and responded with a scoring outburst of his own. He had a driving dunk -- his first in a Cavaliers' uniform -- and scored 10 points in a row to help the Cavaliers get within five points. Rondo was forced to sit after picking up his fourth foul on Jamison and Williams later made another pull-up jumper to bring Cleveland within 76-75.
"One thing we do if a guy has it going, we're going to go to him," Williams said. "That was my time throughout that game. We're such a loaded team."
James helped the Cavaliers close out the period with a one-point lead, as he rebounded a Paul Pierce missed jumper, dribbled up the floor and banked a shot softly off the glass as time expired, setting off pandemonium in the arena. "We stopped being aggressive," said Rondo, who finished with 27 points and 12 assists. "Not just offensively, but defensively, as well. We stopped our pressure and they started attacking us and we fell back on our heels."
O'Neal gave the Cavaliers a 92-90 lead with a nifty move around Kendrick Perkins, then he clobbered Rondo on the other end, bumping him out of the air and sending him crashing to the floor. Rondo rolled on the floor for a while, before getting up to make one of two free throws, and James put the Cavaliers ahead by three by fighting to rebound his own miss and putting it back in.
Garnett answered with a layup, but James responded with a runner in the lane and O'Neal rebounded his own miss to put the Cavaliers ahead 98-83 with little more than a minute remaining. Kendrick Perkins then lost the ball on the next possession, setting of James for his game-capping jumper. James said afterward that his elbow was bothering him, but said, "No excuse for me. I don't make no excuses."
How could he?