for this game

Celtics stifle Cavs again, take 2-0 lead

May 9, 2008 - 3:24 AM By Tony Lee PA Sportsticker Contributing Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) - When LeBron James vowed to have a better game Thursday, it didn't seem like much of a stretch. In a series that has seen so much go wrong for the superstar, he didn't even get that right.

Paul Pierce scored 19 points and Ray Allen broke out of his slump by scoring all 16 of his points in the second half to help frustrate James at every turn during the Boston Celtics' 89-73 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Two of their Eastern Conference semifinals series.

Kevin Garnett chipped in 13 points and 12 rebounds for Boston, which shook off a slow start to grab a 2-0 lead in the series and improve to 6-0 at home this postseason.

The Celtics will look to put a stranglehold on the series Saturday in Cleveland, where Boston has not won since 2004. If James does not find his game there, the Cavs may not make it back to Boston again this season.

"They're very aggressive, they're very good,' James said. "The shots that I normally make haven't fallen the last two games. The layups that usually go down for me are just jumping out of the rim and the jumpers that usually go down for me are just not going down for me."

Despite taking Game One, Boston also felt it needed to improve. Pierce and Allen combined for just four points in that one and there were long stretches when the Celtics struggled on the offensive end.

There were few concerns Thursday.

"It was a total team effort," Pierce said. "We kept the turnovers down, we rebounded the ball, we made the extra pass and then we got the job done defensively. That's true Celtic basketball right there."

A five-time All-Star, James scored 21 points but needed 24 shots to do it and turned the ball over seven times. He is 8-of-42 from the floor with 17 turnovers in the series overall. Just as in Game One when he made only two baskets, James was forced to take a host of jumpers, missing on too many for Cleveland to have any chance.

The 23-year-old actually started fine Thursday. He threw down an alley-oop and scored on a nearly impossible reverse to cap Cleveland's game-opening 21-9 run, but the Cavaliers had just three field goals in the final 15-plus minutes of the first half and slowly saw their lead - and their superstar - evaporate.

James struggled throughout the drought. He went 0-of-5 from the floor in the second quarter - including two airballs - and saw Boston take its first lead, 28-27, midway through when James Posey stripped him and went all the way for a dunk.

The Celtics outscored the Cavaliers, 27-12, in the second, getting seven points and six rebounds from Leon Powe. They took their largest lead of the half, 39-30, on a jumper by Pierce, after which James missed both ends of a 1-and-1, delighting a jumpy Boston crowd getting on James with every mistake.

Pierce has bodied the Cavaliers' leader throughout most of the two games.

"I'm kind of shocked he's 8-for-42," Pierce said. "This is what we work on. We work on trying to contain him. And it's not me, it's everybody. It's total team defense. You look at their team, they're solid all the way around with great shooters - but LeBron is what makes them go.

"If you can somehow control him, you control their team. With the help of the guys around me we've been able to do that."

Allen, who was held scoreless in the opener for the first time since 1997, scored his first points of the series to open the second half, igniting a 12-0 burst that opened things up. The sharpshooting Allen had been 0-of-8 from the floor and had a rare free throw miss in the first half before finally breaking into the scoring column.

James' first two touches of the second half resulted in a turnover and a missed jumper and he didn't score again until a jumper with 5:04 left in the third pulled Cleveland within 12 points. It was James' first field goal since the tricky reverse late in the first and the only basket he had across the second and third quarters.

"I thought LeBron had a few wide open jumpshots or good looks that he's hit before plenty of times," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "He got to the rim a couple of times and the ball just rolled out. You've got to give the Celtics credit because they are an aggressive defensive team."

A defining moment in the contest came late in the third when Garnett ripped a James jumper from the air well after a whistle was blown, much to the delight of the Garden fans. Boston had already been called for a technical foul, so James stepped to the line to shoot the free throw seconds later, only to miss that, too.

He was 9-of-13 from the line and with that miss helped Boston carry a 19-point advantage into the fourth.

The Celtics lead grew to as many as 24 in the fourth as they won by at least 18 points for the fifth time in the playoffs, all at home. Boston will attempt to win its first road game of the postseason Saturday after dropping all three in the first round at Atlanta.

"We're focused on trying to get this first one in Cleveland," Garnett said. "Defense obviously has to be there. We're going into a hostile building and they play very well (at) home. Some way, somehow, we have to carry this energy over (to Cleveland)."

Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 10 of his 19 points in the game's first eight-plus minutes to spark Cleveland early. Wally Szczerbiak added 13 points.

The Cavaliers shot just 35 percent (26-for-73) from the field and hit only two 3-pointers. Ten of their field goals came in the first 8:59 of the game, a flurry that was nullified by the Celtics' 30-9 push that gave the hosts control.