By RICK NOLAND
Assistant Sports Editor
BOSTON â€” Maybe Paul Pierce has a future as a numbers cruncher.
The Boston small forward looked at the final box score Tuesday night from the Celticsâ€™ ugly 76-72 win over the Cavaliers in Game 1 at TD Banknorth Garden and quickly did the math.
Clevelandâ€™s LeBron James was 2-of-18 from the field, while Pierce was 2-of-14 and Boston teammate Ray Allen was 0-of-4.
Â â€œMe and Ray Allen felt like we played him to a standstill,â€ Pierce said. â€œThe combination between me and him was 2-of-18, also.â€
Just as the Cavaliers are encouraged by the fact they almost won on a night when James had what was probably his worst game as a pro, the Celtics are equally optimistic because they triumphed on a night when they got a combined four points from two of their All-Stars.
â€œIâ€™m not really worried about what I do statistically out there on the court,â€ said Pierce, who picked up two quick fouls trying to defend James. â€œIâ€™m just trying to help our ballclub win.
â€œIâ€™m looking at it like I canâ€™t play any worse than this and we got a win. I look at it as itâ€™s all uphill. Ray canâ€™t play as bad as he did, or LeBron, so I think we are setting ourselves up for an exciting series, man. It was Game 1. Obviously, it was ugly, but I look forward to getting better and better.â€
With Game 2 slated for tonight at 7 in Boston, both teams are optimistic their stars will perform better. The difference is the Celtics are up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, while the Cavaliers face the task of trying to win in an arena where Boston is 40-5 this season.
â€œIt was a great win (for us), and if youâ€™re Cleveland, youâ€™re thinking that you almost won with LeBron playing like that,â€ Boston coach Doc Rivers said. â€œIf youâ€™re us, weâ€™re thinking we won with Paul and Ray not scoring, so itâ€™s probably a wash.â€
Unlike the Cavaliers, whose only consistent scoring option behind James is center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds in Game 1, the Celtics have a third All-Star to turn to in Kevin Garnett. Taking advantage of a lot of straight-up, man-to-man defense, Garnett had 28 points in the opener, including what proved to be the game-winning hoop on a spin move inside with 21.4 seconds to go.
â€œThis was two heavyweights just body punching,â€ Garnett said. â€œThere wasnâ€™t any finesse. No jabs, just all body punches, just an all-out, beat-down defensive fight.â€
Added Boston center Kendrick Perkins: â€œThat is why we have three superstars. He is called The Big Ticket for a reason. You throw it in there and he goes to work.â€
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SAM I AM: The Celtics got a huge fourth quarter from veteran point guard Sam Cassell, whom they acquired late in the regular season. Cassell struggled early, but came back to score 10 of his 13 points in the final period, including a pair of big 3-pointers when Boston had nothing else going offensively. â€œI told him we canâ€™t have any more first-half performances like he had,â€ Rivers said. â€œThe second half he redeemed himself.â€ Cassell, who won NBA championships his first two seasons in the league with the Houston Rockets, has always been considered one of the most clutch players in the league. â€œThe one thing about Sam is heâ€™s going to take the shot if itâ€™s there,â€ Rivers said. â€œHe has no problem taking it. Thatâ€™s why we brought him in here.â€
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THATâ€™S FOUL: The Celtics had a foul to give in the closing moments and were trying to do just that, but James got around a reaching James Posey, only to miss a driving layup over Perkins. â€œIt may have worked out in our favor,â€ Rivers said. â€œI think LeBron thought that driving, he was going to get fouled. That was the only thing where I thought we were fortunate. If you have that (foul) to give, you have to use it.â€
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CRYING FOUL: Though it looked like James had a point-blank layup that would have tied the game with less than 10 seconds to go, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said he thought his star was fouled by Perkins on the play. â€œTheyâ€™ve got to make the calls out on the floor and weâ€™ve got to live with them,â€ Brown said.
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INSIDE THE NUMBERS: There were a lot of strange numbers in Game 1. In addition to the shooting woes of Pierce, Allen and Clevelandâ€™s James, Delonte West (2-of-10) and many others, the Cavaliers managed to hold Boston to 12 points in the third period. They were still down a point, however, because they scored just 15 points themselves. Cleveland was 4-of-15 from the field in the quarter, while the Celtics were 5-of-17. Boston also went 6:30 without a point as the Cavaliers went on a 14-0 run to go up six and 7:42 without a field goal. â€œIt was a strange box score,â€ Brown said. â€œIt happened, so weâ€™ve got to get ready for Game 2.â€
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TIP-INS: Boston committed a whopping 23 turnovers in Game 1, which led to 21 Cleveland points. The Cavaliers turned the ball over 18 times, but the Celtics only converted for 12 points. â€¦ James has at least nine rebounds and seven assists in his last four playoff games. â€¦ Brown said the Cavaliers will probably have to double team Garnett more in Game 2. K.G. was 11-of-18 from the field in Game 1, when he made nine of his first 11 shots before finishing 2-of-7.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: â€œThatâ€™s why heâ€™s so good. Even on a night like that, he still kept us in position to win the game.â€ â€“ Cavaliers guard Daniel â€œBoobieâ€ Gibson, on James.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY II: â€œWe donâ€™t want moral victories. We have to go get one.â€ â€“ Brown, on almost winning Game 1 despite Jamesâ€™ struggles.
Â Noland may be reached at email@example.com or 330-721-4061.