for this game

Garnett, Celtics grab 3-2 lead over Cavs

May 15, 2008 - 4:34 AM By Tony Lee PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) -- With no answer for LeBron James and no rhythm on offense, the Boston Celtics looked dead in the water early Wednesday night. Someone must have reminded them they were at home.

Kevin Garnett scored eight of his 26 points in an explosive third quarter and Rajon Rondo finished with 20 and 13 assists as the Celtics stayed perfect at home this postseason with a 96-89 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Paul Pierce had a team-high 29 points - including eight on free throws in the final 1:23 - to help Boston grab a 3-2 series lead and keep alive the playoffs' theme of home-court dominance. Game Six of the best-of-seven series will be Friday in Cleveland, where Boston has not won since 2004.

"We've got some work cut out for us as we go out here on this road and try to close this out, which is the most important thing for us right now," Pierce said.

The Celtics are 0-5 on the road this postseason but have survived with dominant play at TD Banknorth Garden. Wednesday was a prime example as they improved to 7-0 here in the playoffs, despite some sloppy play down the stretch that allowed the Cavaliers to claw back.

James looked like he might turn the tables early, breaking out of a Boston slump that has lingered since the regular season and reached a head in Games One and Two here last week. He scored 11 points in the first quarter and was up to 23 when a step-back jumper late in the second quarter put the Cavaliers ahead, 43-29.

The five-time All-Star, who was 8-of-42 from the floor in the first two games of the series, did not score again until 44 seconds remained in the third. By that time, Garnett and Rondo had taken over.

"The second quarter - we had a lot more energy," said Garnett, who led all players with 16 rebounds. "Offensively, Rondo hit some big shots, got us going, got us in the flow, and we carried it over to the third quarter."

Rondo, who had made two 3-pointers in a game just once in his career, buried two in a span of 46 seconds to spark a 14-3 run that closed the first half and pulled Boston within 46-43.

Rondo's steal and layup just over a minute into the second half gave the Celtics their first lead of the game, and Pierce's 3-pointer midway through the third snapped a 55-55 tie and put the hosts on top to stay.

The shot was part of a 23-10 burst, which Rondo capped with a runner for a 12-point bulge.

"He was the X-factor tonight," James said. "Rondo played an excellent game. Without Rondo tonight, it would've been a much tighter game. Rondo was the player of the game tonight."

Rondo had just one turnover which came with 5:06 left in the first quarter.

"Rondo was fantastic tonight," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought spreading the floor for him at the start of the third quarter was good for him. ... He just made great, great decisions for us tonight."

After James' final basket of the first half put the Cavaliers up by 14, Boston outscored Cleveland, 42-16, over a span of 15-plus minutes.

"They came out and turned up their aggression in the third quarter, and that was the difference in the ballgame," said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. "That set the tone for the Celtics, it set the tone for the crowd and it was a rough go from there."

Rondo netted another runner for an 88-77 advantage with just 3:38 left. But Cleveland took advantage of two bad turnovers by Boston late and was within four points in the final minute.

Garnett missed a jumper on the Celtics' next possession, but Ray Allen tipped the miss out to Pierce, who was fouled and hit two from the line to make it 93-87 with 15.6 remaining.

Delonte West made two free throws on the other end, but Pierce answered with two of his own and a five-second violation with 11 seconds left doomed the Cavaliers' comeback try.

James had only four baskets in the second half to finish with 35 points, and West added 21 for Cleveland, which finished 68 percent (28-of-41) from the line.

Despite the loss, and the prospect of having to come back to Boston to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, James admitted to having no worries.

"A LeBron James team is never desperate," he said.

Desperate, no, but certainly in a jam. Then again, the Cavaliers will be at home, and that in itself presents a major challenge for the Celtics, who look like a different team away from TD Banknorth Garden.

"Starting (Thursday), we gotta work on somehow, some way, closing out this series," Pierce said.

Allen scored 11 points and rookie Glen Davis chipped in six in the second half for Boston.