CLEVELAND — It’s going to be a long three days off for the Cavaliers.
Make that four, because they didn’t really show up Monday in losing 104-86 to the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena.
“It’s real simple: For 48 minutes, we did not play with a sense of urgency,” an extremely angry Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We tried for the last few minutes, but they kicked our behinds from the beginning.”
Tied at one game apiece, the best-of-seven series doesn’t resume until Friday at 7 p.m. at TD Garden. Game 4 is Sunday in Boston at 3:30 p.m.
The Cavaliers, who trailed by 23 points after three periods and were down as many as 25 in the fourth, went on a 15-0 run to get within 91-81 with 4:33 to play, but it ended up being way too little, way too late.
“We’ve got to decide if we are going to take the fight to them,” a fuming Brown said. “Nothing is going to be given to us.”
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On a night when he was presented — again — with the NBA Most Valuable Player trophy, this time by commissioner David Stern, LeBron James was anything but valuable until sparking Cleveland’s late, futile rally.
Playing with a strained and bruised right elbow, James wound up with a respectable 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but he had just 12 points through three periods, when he rarely took a jumper.
“His elbow is fine,” Brown said. “He has not said anything to me, our trainers have not said anything to me. If it is bothering him, it’s news to me.” Mo Williams had another awful playoff game for the Cavaliers, finishing with four points on 1-of-9 shooting, while Shaquille O’Neal had nine points and four rebounds in just 19 minutes.
Antawn Jamison had 16 points, but just five came in the second half, while J.J. Hickson, instrumental in the team’s late rally, had 13.
Compounding matters even more, big man Anderson Varejao left the game with back spasms in the third period and did not return.
Boston, meanwhile, got 19 assists from Rajon Rondo, all in the first three quarters. Rondo, who had two more assists than Cleveland’s entire team, also had 13 points.
Ray Allen led Boston with 22 points, with Kevin Garnett adding 18 points and 10 boards, Paul Pierce contributing 14 points and Kendrick Perkins posting 10 points and nine rebounds.
Then there was 35-year-old veteran Rasheed Wallace, who had 17 points off the bench on 7-of-8 shooting. Wallace, openly challenged by coach Doc Rivers between Games 1 and 2, had a total of 19 points in Boston’s five-game series with Miami and just two in Game 1 against the Cavaliers.
As a team, the Celtics shot .513 from the field (40-of-78) compared to Cleveland’s .400 (28-of-70).
“I’m concerned,” Brown said. “Our defense was not there tonight.
“We’ve got to be tougher,” he added. “We’ve got to bring more fight to the table if we want to win this series.”
Rondo, as he was in Game 1, was the key to everything the Celtics did, repeatedly jetting around Williams, Delonte West or Anthony Parker to feed open teammates.
It looked like he was going to break the NBA playoff record of 24 assists shared by Magic Johnson and John Stockton, but the Celtics nearly shut things down too soon.
“We started playing the clock instead of the game,” Rondo said.
Back within 10 with 4:33 to go, the Cavaliers actually could have been within four and on the verge of pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history, but James and Jamison both missed 3-pointers before Pierce ended a five-minute Boston scoring drought on a drive.
“It felt like we were stuck on 91 for an hour,” Rivers said.
In the end, that rally meant nothing, as Cleveland lost home-court advantage on a night when Boston held a 43-32 advantage on the boards and a 30-17 edge in assists.
The Cavaliers looked like a bunch of guys who had never played together while getting outscored 31-12 in the third period, giving Boston a commanding 83-60 lead.
Throwing the ball all over the floor and playing no defense, Cleveland went 4:18 without a point as Boston went up 80-57 with 2:17 to play in the period. The Cavaliers, who were 5-of-16 from the field and 2-of-5 at the line in their 12-point quarter, also went 5:19 without a field goal.
Their defense might have been worse, as Boston made 10 of 17 shots (.589), including 3-of-6 from 3-point territory, and 8 of 10 free throws. Rondo had seven assists in that period alone, while Allen made a pair of threes and scored 10 points.
James, meanwhile, continued his first-half trend of not shooting jumpers and not really attacking the rim, which is why he had just 12 points going into the final period.
The Cavaliers, also outplayed for the majority of Game 1 before closing the game on a 43-24 run to win 101-93, were down 52-48 at intermission, but it could — and probably should — have been a lot worse.
James had just eight points at halftime on 2-of-5 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 at the line. He didn’t get his first point until splitting a pair of free throws with 3:21 left in the first period, his first field goal — after three misses — coming on a breakaway dunk with 27.1 seconds to go.
James’ only real memorable play of the first half came with 3:44 to go in the second period when his hand rose above the square on the backboard to block a layup attempt by Tony Allen.
The Celtics, who went up 26-22 when Rondo hit a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in the first quarter, scored the first nine points of the second period with James on the bench. Those points came in 1:41, meaning Boston went on a 12-0 spurt in just 1:42.2 to take a 35-22 lead.
The Celtics got a tremendous lift from Wallace, who came off the bench to score 13 points in nine first-half minutes. Wallace made all five of his shots, including three 3-pointers.
The Celtics, who shot .512 from the field (21-of-41) over the first two periods, would have been up a lot more at halftime except for two things: They committed 10 turnovers and were called for 16 fouls.
Celtics 104, Cavaliers 86
BOSTON (104): Pierce 4-10 4-4 14, Garnett 8-21 2-2 18, Perkins 5-6 0-0 10, Rondo 5-10 2-4 13, R.Allen 8-15 3-4 22, Wallace 7-8 0-0 17, T.Allen 1-4 2-2 4, Davis 2-2 2-2 6, Finley 0-1 0-0 0, Daniels 0-1 0-0 0, Robinson 0-0 0-0 0, S.Williams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 40-78 15-18 104.
CLEVELAND (86): James 7-15 10-15 24, Jamison 6-11 2-4 16, O’Neal 4-10 1-2 9, M.Williams 1-9 2-3 4, Parker 2-7 0-0 6, Varejao 2-3 4-5 8, West 1-4 2-2 4, Hickson 4-6 5-7 13, Moon 1-3 0-0 2, Gibson 0-1 0-0 0, J.Williams 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-70 26-38 86.
Boston 26 26 31 21 —104
Cleveland 22 26 12 26 — 86
3-Point Goals — Boston 9-19 (Wallace 3-4, R.Allen 3-7, Pierce 2-5, Rondo 1-2, Finley 0-1), Cleveland 4-21 (Parker 2-4, Jamison 2-5, West 0-1, Gibson 0-1, Moon 0-1, J.Williams 0-1, James 0-4, M.Williams 0-4). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Boston 51 (Garnett 10), Cleveland 44 (Varejao, James 7). Assists — Boston 30 (Rondo 19), Cleveland 17 (M.Williams 7). Total Fouls — Boston 31, Cleveland 16. Technicals — Perkins, Pierce, Varejao, Cleveland defensive three second. Flagrant Fouls — Varejao. A— 20,562 (20,562).