for this game

Celtics grab rings, hold off Cavaliers

Oct 29, 2008 - 6:38 AM BOSTON (Ticker) -- After wiping away the tears, the defending champion Boston Celtics were able to smile.

Paul Pierce scored 27 points and Leon Powe punctuated the win with a thunderous dunk as the Celtics held off the Cleveland Cavaliers, 90-85, on Tuesday in a game with playoff intensity on the NBA's Opening Night.

"We just kind of settled in," Pierce said. "I think that really sums it up. We didn't really play well in the first half defensively, and we are a defensive team. After halftime, emotions got out of the way, and we started to play our brand of basketball. It's gonna be a process like we said last year. We're going to get better."

Rajon Rondo scored 14 points and Powe added 13 for the Celtics, who raised their 17th championship banner after a stirring ring ceremony prior to the game.

"I've heard so many horror stories about this night, and the whole Miami thing - I think that's going to be the poster child for any team that wins it, 'Don't forget the Miami game on national TV with Chicago,'" Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, referring to the Heat's 108-66 home-court loss to the Bulls in November 2006.

"I think I heard that 30 times over the last two days from different coaches, friends, you guys. So, I'm glad that didn't happen."

LeBron James made 1-of-2 free throws to cut his team's deficit to two with 10 seconds left, but the Celtics successfully were able to avoid getting fouled in the backcourt on the ensuing possession.

Pierce quickly threw the ball ahead to the cherry-picking Powe, who absorbed the contact and slammed it over Anderson Varejao to make it 88-84 with 5.3 ticks left. Powe missed the ensuing free throw, but Boston was able to hold on for the win.

James collected 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists but missed four free throws in the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers, who also suffered a loss to the Celtics in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.

"We missed some really, really good shots, and against a team that shoots the ball particularly well, you can play defense a lot but you also have to make shots to help that defense out, and we didn't do that in the third quarter," James said.

"I had a couple layups that I missed, you can play defense like we did tonight, giving up 44 percent from the field but, if you don't make shots, it doesn't look so well, in the third quarter we didn't make shots."

The decisive seventh game in May pitted James against Pierce in a classic scoring duel. The duo wasn't as prolific in this one but something just as poignant happened at TD Banknorth Garden.

Prior to the contest, NBA commissioner David Stern and the Cetlics' ownership group handed out championship rings to each member of last year's championship club. In an emotional moment, Pierce fought back tears as he was introduced to the crowd last.

Boston's captain and the reigning NBA Finals MVP, Pierce also thanked the crowd for its support and held the championship trophy over his head as the fans gave him a standing ovation.

Holding a seven-point lead after a physical first half, the Cavaliers were outscored by the Celtics, 24-13, in the third quarter to lose control of the game.

"One of our Achilles heels on the floor has been our turnovers, and we're trying to play a little faster," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "But sometimes, that translates into miscues and the Celtics' defensive pressure and physicalness in the second half caused us to have 12 turnovers, and that's too many to have in a half.

"I thought that was the biggest difference in the game was our turnovers, and you have to give them credit for that."

In the fourth, Boston continued to apply the pressure and got the crowd involved when Powe slammed home a monster dunk over the diminutive Delonte West. The jam elicited a primal scream from Powe and gave the Celtics an eight-point advantage with 9:01 left in the game.

"You've got to give them credit," West said. "They played, they are the champs, they played great defense out there, and they turned the defensive pressure up on us. We had plenty of opportunities to take advantage on offense. We missed shots, missed free throws. We aren't pointing the finger at anything, we just take this one on the chin and get ready for the next one."

After James threw in an eye-popping slam off a lob pass from Mo Williams - the Cavaliers' newly acquired point guard - the Celtics answered with two free throws from Kevin Garnett, who gave his squad a six-point lead with 1:36 left.

But Williams nailed a 3-pointer to make it 86-83 with 1:13 remaining. He scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from the arc in his debut for Cleveland.

After an empty possession for Boston, James came back quickly, powering to the basket but missing a fadeaway bank shot from three feet as the clock ran under one minute. Pierce then missed a jumper with 15 ticks left to set the stage for the final sequence, which featured James' folly from the foul line.

Garnett had 11 points and six rebounds and Ray Allen scored just eight for Boston, which will aim to repeat as champion for the first time since 1967-69.

"It was an emotional night," Garnett said. "I know I'm sounding like a broken record, but it was hard to step back from it. Second half was better, once we settled in. When teams come in here they've got to know that we're very prepared. The defense will be up to par, and it will be a great effort. That's what we hang our hats on every night."

Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 15 points and eight rebounds for Cleveland, which shot just 3-of-15 from the arc.