CLEVELAND — This much we know: The Cavaliers don’t like the Boston Celtics, and the Celtics don’t like the Cavaliers.
That mutual disdain will likely increase when the teams begin a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.
After wrapping up their first-round series against Chicago in Game 5 on Tuesday at The Q, however, Cleveland players — the team was given Wednesday off by coach Mike Brown — elected to take the high road.
“The only incentive I’m worried about is the final goal,” said center Shaquille O’Neal, who missed the final 23 games of the regular season after injuring his right thumb in a Feb. 25 game against the Celtics.
“We know that they’re a tough team. We know that they’re chasing the same thing that we’re chasing. We just have to keep our heads, keep our composure and do what we’re supposed to do. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
At some point — or many points — in the series, that won’t be easy.
Celtics reserve Tony Allen and, in particular, starting power forward Kevin Garnett exchanged a lot of words with Cleveland superstar LeBron James during the teams’ final regular-season meeting, a 117-113 Boston win at TD Garden on April 4.
Near the end of that game, which was basically meaningless to the Cavaliers, Garnett grabbed his crotch and thumped his chest while yelling at James, who had 42 points, seven rebounds and nine assists as Cleveland rallied to take the lead after being down 22, only to lose down the stretch.
On top of that, Boston reserve center Glen “Big Baby” Davis, like O’Neal an LSU product, seemed to intentionally pull on the Cleveland center’s thumb after it was injured in the prior meeting in late February, a game the Cavaliers won 108-88 after being behind by 13 points.
“Nothing bothers me. I don’t think so,” O’Neal said when asked if he thought the play was dirty. “I’m just glad I got my thumbs back. For six weeks, I couldn’t even wipe my (after a brief hesitation) furniture.”
Boston, which beat the Cavaliers in seven games in the 2008 conference semifinals en route to an NBA championship, split the season series with Cleveland 2-2, winning 95-89 on opening night at The Q and falling 104-93 at home on March 14.
“They’re a championship-caliber team,” Cavaliers power forward Antawn Jamison said. “A lot of people are saying they’re old and can’t contend for a championship, but we know we are going to get their best effort so far this year.
“They are playing with confidence and it’s going to be a battle. The last two games have had that playoff atmosphere, so you are really going to see two teams who know what’s at stake. Every possession is going to count. We have to take care of the home-court advantage and take one game at a time.
“They’re healthy and they feel like they can come out and win the series. It’s going to be a fun series. We are going to claw and fight until the end as well.”
Like top-seeded Cleveland, No. 4 Boston is coming off a 4-1 series win. Included were a number of resounding victories over No. 5 Miami.
“We know they are a veteran team,” Cavaliers reserve swingman Jamario Moon said. “They’ve been where we are trying to get to.”
O’Neal drew back-to-back fouls on Chicago’s Brad Miller in a matter of seconds early in the fourth quarter of Game 5, using his 7-foot-1, 325-pound body to back down the Bulls center and force him to use two hands in an effort to combat the move.
“I’ve been here 17 years now,” said O’Neal, actually an 18-year veteran who earlier in the series mentioned he was 39 years old when he actually turned 38 on March 6. “I’ve been of the mind-set that when I take it and go, you’re either going to have to foul me or let me go.
“It was a fair call. I haven’t got that call in a while. It was nice to get that. When I’m backing down like that, you have to bang and you have to use two hands.”
Brown has a 40-25 record in the playoffs (.615), tying him with Chuck Daly as the fifth-fastest coach to win 40 postseason games. Phil Jackson and Johnny Kundla did it in 55 games, followed by Pat Riley (56) and Billy Cunningham (64).
The Cavaliers have advanced to at least the conference semifinals for the fifth straight season. Cleveland is 20-5 in its last five first-round series.
Cavaliers point guard Mo Williams was 2-of-13 from the field in Game 5 against Chicago. He shot just .410 from the field in the series (25-of-61), but did make 13-of-33 3-pointers (.394) to average 15.6 points. Williams also averaged a respectable 5.2 assists, but subtract his 10 assists in Game 1 and the average drops to 4.0 over the last four games.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.