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The Captain guides the ship

03.07.09 at 12:10 am ET
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Never let it be said that Paul Pierce is not self-aware. As the Captain came off the floor, victorious over both the Cavaliers and LeBron James, he laid a couple of hard high-fives on some fans at courtside. A young man in a Cavs jersey held out his hand as well, but Pierce left him hanging. No Kevin Garnett? No problem. Pierce was conceding nothing to anyone in a Cavalier jersey.

In 45 minutes, Pierce took 22 shots, made 11 of them, scored 29 points, grabbed four rebounds, handed out nine assists (and had only two turnovers) and helped force the league’s best player into a 5-for-15 shooting performance. How good was Pierce? Let’s put it this way: If Larry had done what Pierce accomplished there would be hosannas in the paper tomorrow and testaments to his greatness. (Click here for a recap).

As it was, Pierce was happy to compliment the young bigs for a phenomenal performance and then he put the whole thing into perspective. “For us to get this was huge,” Pierce said. “We’re both going for homecourt advantage. For them to get a win would have been devastating, especially with the way they play at home.”

Without Garnett, this was something of a house money game for the Celtics. Yes, a loss would have left them in a precarious state in the race for homecourt–three game down in the loss column and a big game down in the series tiebreaker–but the flip side was all profit.

Win the game without KG and it’s a whole new set of circumstances for the Celtics. Nineteen games to go and mere percentage points separate the two teams.

What made Pierce’s performance all the more extraordinary was that he was not the offensive focus in the first half. Assistant coach Armond Hill had shown the team a tape of them at their best; moving the ball, making the extra pass, finishing plays. Add to that the Cavs strong defensive play on the perimeter and the plan was to go inside early and often.

“Cleveland is a great perimeter defensive team,” Pierce said. “They trap really hard on the pick and roll. They trap really hard on down screens. We made that extra pass all night long and we took advantage of it.”

The Celtics held a ridiculous 58-22 advantage on points in the paint, which more than offset the equally ridiculous 38-12 free throw discrepancy, and it resulted in huge nights for Kendrick Perkins, Big Baby Davis, Leon Powe and Mikki Moore.

But when it was winning time, when all the cards were on the table, it was Pierce who came to collect. For a while it looked like we would be in for another epic Pierce-James showdown in the fourth quarter, but in the end it was all Pierce.

With James sitting out the first few minutes of the fourth, Pierce went into attack mode on poor Wally Szczerbiak. After the Cavs cut the lead to seven, Pierce split a double-team and rolled to the basket for a layup. On the next possession he found Powe for a dunk. It was all coming so easy for him. With the C’s holding 10, Pierce got himself in the lane and hit an impossible fadeaway. To cap it off he took a gut-busting charge from Delonte West on the other end.

The roar of the crowd only added to his unstoppable flow. The fourth quarter has become Pierce’s time this year and it was again last night.

Pierce was asked about his matchup with James. “You want to make him play both ends of the court,” Pierce said. “It’s tremendously difficult. Numerous times I’ve guarded him over the years, I feel like he’s worn me down.”

On this night it was Pierce, one of the few players in the league who can even conceive of going mano-a-mano with the King who won the war of attrition.

The Celtics had the usual gameplan. Make James beat them from the outside. “Listen,” Doc Rivers said. “With LeBron it’s a make/miss game every time he plays.”

More often than not James missed. Whether it was a the effects of too many road games or too many minutes, or simply Pierce’s will (or more likely, a combination of all three) this was not LeBron’s night. It belonged to Paul Pierce.

Powe knows when to put on a show

03.06.09 at 11:54 pm ET
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The bigger the spotlight, the bigger he plays. Leon Powe does not always see major minutes, but when he is put on a national stage, he always seems to make the most of his time. Powe tries to show the world ‘€“ and his opponents ‘€“ just what he can do when given the opportunity.

‘€œEverybody knows their on TV, but you want to play well. You want to do your best,’€ he said following the Celtics 105-94 win over the Cavaliers (RECAP HERE). ‘€œI always focus every game, I prepare the same, but there’s just a certain feeling when you wake up in the morning like you know you’re playing a big game.’€

On Friday’s ESPN-televised game, Powe posted 20 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes. He is averaging just 6.7 points, 4.5 boards, and 16 minutes on the season. Not only was Powe aware of the implications of the game in a close Eastern Conference race, he also understood the consequences of a poor showing.

‘€œYou’ve got to go out there and do well,’€ he said. ‘€œYou don’t want to do bad because you’re family and people are probably going to call you, like ‘What were you doing? What happened on this play?’ So I try to be extra focused too and just try to make the right reads and the right plays. I think I did everything right tonight, so fortunately I did. And that was good because some nights you aren’t going to make them like that.’€

Of course Powe’s performance wasn’t driven by ego. He had no choice but to come up big for the Celtics to counter LeBron James and crew. The Celtics were already playing without forwards Kevin Garnett and Brian Scalabrine before Glen Davis was ejected for a Flagrant 2 Foul against Anderson Varejao.

‘€œThere’€™s a lot of relying on me to go in there and try to hold the paint down and just get rebounds and just play defense and score when I got some opportunities,’€ he said. ‘€œAnd I think I did that cause we’€™re missing a lot of people right now so I try to just do my best.’€

Powe officially introduced himself to the world during Game of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Considering how well he plays when the spotlight is on, expect more encore performances.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Leon Powe,

Celtics-Cavs Game Blog: Fourth Quarter

03.06.09 at 10:06 pm ET
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- Who will prove to be the better pick up? Marbury, Moore, and Smith are on the court in crunch time. Nothing better than being thrown to the wolves to get players ready for the postseason.

- Doc called Marbury over during free throws. As they talked, both put their hands on the other’s back. When was the last time Marbury seemed to get along this well with a coach?

- Big Z is getting everyone riled up tonight. This time he drew a controversial foul on Kendrick Perkins which sent the crowd into a tizzy.

- So much for Joe Smith’s jumper. Mikki Moore is showing off his mid-range game yet again. He is proving to be that legitimate back up center the Celtics never had in Patrick O’Bryant.

- Huge night for Leon Powe. In addition to his 18 points and 9 rebounds so far, he swatted a monster block followed up with a chance for a three-point play.

- Collision between Ray Allen and LeBron at half court. Both players fell to the ground after it looked like LeBron tried to set a hard pick. Everyone’s fine.

- Another tie up at halfcourt, this one reminding me of Pierce’s game-changing timeout during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

- Looks like this is a rap. James and the Cavs starters are being yanked with 1:27 to go. Pierce is still in the game with 45 minutes.

- Now it’s really a rap. J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker are in.

- Final score … Celtics 105, Cavs 94

Celtics-Cavs Game Blog: Third Quarter

03.06.09 at 9:26 pm ET
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So, you’re the Celtics. You’re up by two points. That’s good. But LeBron James has not played well and you have to expect he’ll be better in the second half. That’s not good. So, are you happy with a two-point lead or are you thinking that you blew a chance to get a little distance on the scoreboard?

Probably a little bit of both.

What you are happy with, if you’re the Celtics, is the production of Leon Powe, Big Baby Davis and Kendrick Perkins who are eating up the Cavs big men. As noted in our preview this is one you just can’t predict and if you had figured on any of those above scenarios, well, congrats you are a hoops Nostradamus.

THIRD QUARTER WRAP: OK, so we had a minor fracas, an ejection, three technicals and a flagrant 2, an explosion from Paul Pierce and a smaller, but no less significant one from Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo has already racked up 10 assists.

The next 12 minutes could do no less than decide the rest of the regular season, homecourt, the playoffs, and the fate of the Republic. Not bad.

Third Quarter Observations

– At the risk of stating the obvious, that was a big shot for Ray Allen to make to open the half. We try to mix the obvious with the sublime. It’s what we do.

– Well, to quote Dick Stockton, you could see that coming. Perkins and Baby have had elbows for Anderson Varejao all night, and Varejao is a well-known instigator. That said that was a hard foul. A foul that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 80s or 90s. In the 00s it’s a Flagrant 2.

– So, Ray Allen and LeBron James got double T’s. Big Z got a regular T and Baby got a Flagrant 2. Got all that?

– Whoops. I didn’t. Baby Davis got ejected, which is automatic with a Flagrant 2. Got my flagrants confused. It’s hard to tell from courtside without numerous HD replays but that seems kind of dubious.

– I’m beginning to sense a Pierce-James battle looming, and I like it.

– OK Ray, here’s the play. Rondo will hit you on the break. You go hard to to the goal and when LeBron comes over, you bounce it off his chest, spin in the lane and make a layup on the other side. Got it? Ready, break!

– Not sure if it was visible on TV, but Perkins just caught Varejao with an elbow to the chops.

– This will be a test for Doc to see if he’s willing to take Pierce out of this game for a few minutes. Would he trust Bill Walker in this spot? Would he go small with three guards?

– Uh-oh. Pierce is feeling it. The guy behind me on that fast break 3: “No, no, no, yeah!”

– I hate this lineup for the Cavs. Wally has no shot of playing Powe inside. JJ Hickson is where?

Celtics-Cavs Game Blog: Second Quarter

03.06.09 at 8:39 pm ET
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At the start of the second quarter … Celtics 21, Cavaliers 19

- The Garden kicked off the second quarter with a trivia contest for playoff tickets, hosted by Greg Dickerson. The contest pitted a Celtics and Cavs fan against one another. Despite being spoon-fed the correct answers, the Celtics fans still got the first question wrong. Needless to say he was booed.

- On the court: Celtics – Powe/Moore/Marbury/Pierce/House … Cavs – Gibson/Williams/Szczerbiak/Hickson/Smith

- It’ll be interesting to see how the Celtics bigs handle Joe Smith and J.J. Hickson. Smith has a mid-range jumper that can pull defenders out of the paint. The rookie Hickson was working on turn-around bank shots before the game.

- Mikki Moore had his first crowd-rousing moment at the Garden when he dunked through a handful of Cavs off of a Marbury pass.

- At the timeout: Celtics Karaoke courtesy of Big Baby, Ray Allen, and Leon Powe. Davis busted out into a solo performance that sounded like Simon Cowell’s worst nightmare.

- Rondo was welcomed back into the game with a standing ovation. The Cavs have most of their starters back in the game looking for an offensive spark. So far they have come up cold in the second quarter. The Celtics have all five starters in the game.

- LeBron’s posing after every shot like it’s a game winner. He’s shooting 2-for-7.

- Mo Williams has the Cavs back in this game with eight quick points. At the half … Cetlics 45, Cavs 43

Read More: Big Baby, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Glen Davis

Scalabrine limited until April 1

03.06.09 at 8:09 pm ET
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Celtics forward Brian Scalabrine cannot participate in one-on-one drills until April 1, he said prior to Friday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the meantime he will do excercises that do not involve “bouncing,” including the stationary bike and stairclimber. Scalabrine, who was diagnosed with post concussion syndrome, has not suffered from blurred vision since Tuesday. (A plus considering he said he parked Eddie House’s car.) He has not played since February 19 against the Utah Jazz.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brian Scalabrine, eddie house,

Celtics-Cavs Game Blog: First Quarter

03.06.09 at 8:02 pm ET
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There is a playoff atmosphere both in the Garden and in the press room for this one. It’s a shame, really, that Kevin Garnett isn’t in uniform, but he is here. His baritone was unmistakable behind the locker room wall. Doc Rivers reiterated that KG will be out at least another week.

But everyone else is ready to go and we are too. Let’s get it started.

FIRST QUARTER WRAP: If the first 12 minutes are any indication this is going to be a knockdown drag-out street fight. Neither team is giving an inch defensively and fast breaks are but a rumor. Considering the fact that Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combined for three points, that the Celtics have a 21-19 lead is about as good as they could have hoped.

First Quarter Observations

– The Cavs are in mustard yellow finest for this one. The Celtics are in their classic whites. Something to be said for classic.

– Where will the offense come for the Celtics tonight beside Ray Allen and Paul Pierce? Kendrick Perkins made a nice move on Big Z to score in the lane last time down. Despite a ton of size, Z has trouble moving and could be someone the C’s can exploit. Of course he can also make 20 footers like they are layups.

– This has been like the first two rounds of a big fight with both teams gingerly testing each other but not going for knockout. Now that LeBron just biffed that dunk maybe it’s time to take off the wraps and get down to business. I’m telling you LeBron was WAY up there for that windmill.

– Asked in the opening minute who would score besides Pierce and Allen? We’re at the first timeout and all the points have come from players not named Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Rajon Rondo is not letting Mo Williams breathe offensively. Mo has forced up two shots and missed them both. Badly.

– Whole lot of everything going on there. Allen’s mysterious shooting funk against the Cavs continues, Perkins got a career-highlight block on LeBron, but most importantly Rondo is down and he is hurt.

It looks like he has a sprained ankle. He was hopping on one foot behind the plan and completely collapsed at midcourt. He is still on the bench at this moment. Eddie House replaced him in the lineup.

– Joe Smith was booed. Not sure why.

– Update: Rondo has a slightly sprained right ankle and will return. That is huge news for the Celtics.

– Outside shots are just not falling tonight. Both teams defend the perimeter extremely well so that’s not a surprise, but Allen especially has had a couple of decent looks. It would do wonders for his psyche if he had a breakout game against Cleveland. To be sure, Allen is as veteran-tough as it comes, but still the Cavs have defended him better than anyone in the past.

– The Celtics spacing is all messed up but they are playing hard. Baby and Perkins especially.

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