for this game

Pierce outduels James as Celtics top Cavaliers

Mar 7, 2009 - 5:21 AM BOSTON (Ticker) -- In a battle between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, Paul Pierce rose to the occasion.

Pierce scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half as the Boston Celtics pulled back into a virtual tie for the best record in the East with a 105-94 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

Leon Powe added 20 points off the bench and Ray Allen chipped in 17 for the Celtics (49-14), who shot 54 percent (45-of-83) against the best defensive team in the NBA and dominated on the inside, outscoring the Cavaliers, 58-22, in the paint.

"Great win for us," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Great team win. Really proud of basically everybody. I just love offensively - (assistant coach) Armond Hill showed a great tape before the game of us moving the ball to each other and bigs making interior passes to bigs.

"And I thought that's exactly what we did in the game. I thought it was just a fantastic game. I thought we were physical, our bigs were physical."

Pierce outdueled superstar LeBron James, who was held to 21 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

"They have a lot of active bigs that stay in front of the ball and contain the ball and they try and keep you out on the perimeter as much as possible," James said. "It's a very good defensive team and you have to attack it when you can.

"We gave up a lot of points in the paint. Their bigs did an unbelievable job in the paint and, when you give up that many points in the paint, nine times out of 10 you're going to lose that game."

The Cavaliers (48-13) cut it to 90-83 with 5:58 left in the game, but Pierce answered with a driving layup to spark an 8-0 run and put the game away. The All-Star guard scored 10 points in the final period.

"We feel like Cleveland has a strong perimeter defense, they trap very hard on pick and rolls, they trap very hard on down screens, and we just decided - we watched the film - to make the extra pass," Pierce said. "We saw that the lone guy to be open was the guy in the middle, and we consistently made that pass all night long, and we took advantage of it."

The Celtics managed to win without Kevin Garnett, who sat out his seventh straight game and will miss at least another week with a right knee strain. Glen Davis started in his place but was ejected after a flagrant foul in the third quarter.

"Like I said before, no KG or with KG they are going to be a great team because they buy into the system," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "A lot of teams can't afford to lose an all star but they have two more. They lose KG, the heart and soul of the defense but they still have two superstars that can keep up the same tempo."

Powe took over most of Davis' minutes and finished 9-of-11 from the field.

"Well, you know, honestly, I expected (Powe and Davis) to have a (heck) of a game," Rivers said. "I really did. If you're going to bring a big away from the bucket and you have two bigs under the bucket, you basically think we're going to get a lot of layups and duck in dunks. What I was more proud of - I think they had two turnovers, as a group."

Mo Williams scored 26 points to lead Cleveland, which had its four-game winning streak snapped.