Celtics Win in Cleveland on Opening Night

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

CLEVELAND -- Shaquille O'Neal has learned the ropes in his 17 NBA seasons. There's one lesson that has endured since he was a raw rookie.

"You can't win a championship in the first game," he said.

Boston's Big Three -- plus Rasheed -- spoiled Cleveland's overhyped season opener on Tuesday night with a 95-89 win over the new-look Cavaliers, who may have LeBron James and Shaq but appear to be a long way from true title contenders.

Paul Pierce scored 23 points, Ray Allen 16 and Kevin Garnett 13 in his first regular-season game since last March as the Celtics, overlooked by some this preseason, ended an 11-game losing streak in Cleveland and snapped a 16-game skid by visiting teams in games between the Eastern powers who figure to meet again sometime in May or June.

"It was a good Day One," Pierce said. "Psychologically, you want to go into a team's building and win, especially in a place where we haven't won in a few years. It's great to come here and get a win. We know when we come here next time that we can do it again."

Pierce made two crucial jumpers and two free throws in the final 1:03 to pace the Celtics, whose drive to a second straight title was derailed when Garnett injured his knee late last season. Rasheed Wallace, added as a free agent during the offseason, had 12 points.

James scored 38 and O'Neal added 10 points -- just two after halftime -- and 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who won their first 23 home games last season but are already 0-1 on their floor.

Cleveland's offense never found a rhythm as the Cavs tried to figure out how to best use the 7-foot-1, 325-pound O'Neal.

"We'd like to start off 1-0, but there are 100 games left," said O'Neal, who was just 1 of 5 from the floor in the second half and missed his only two free throws. "We'll be fine. I've been on teams that started 0-1, 0-5, 5-0, 10-0. Nothing matters unless you win the whole thing."

Because of the 14-time All-Star O'Neal's addition, the Cavaliers have gotten the bulk of the preseason attention and are a trendy pick to win their first NBA title.

The Celtics may have other plans.

"We just carry on, handle our business and understand we have one goal in mind," Pierce said. "We really don't care what people say about us. We know what our goal is."

Garnett looked fully recovered from surgery to repair his right knee. Allen stroked a couple 3s, and Pierce was his cold-blooded best down the stretch. After James missed a 3-pointer that would have brought Cleveland within one, Pierce stuck a 15-footer to make it 89-83.

Cleveland turned it over when newly acquired Anthony Parker couldn't handle a pass from James, and Pierce made the Cavs pay again with a second dagger from the outside.

Pierce had 11 rebounds, Garnett 10 and Rajon Rondo added 10 assists for Boston, whose reserves outscored Cleveland's 26-10.

"I liked what happened tonight because everyone contributed," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It was as much of a team win as you can get."

James was in MVP form, but this wasn't the debut the Cavs envisioned. Their offense sputtered as coach Mike Brown feared, and their defense didn't do a good job on the perimeter and was missing one of its key components, guard Delonte West, who was inactive for the game and whose future seems uncertain in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers began their quest for a title without the troubled but valuable West, who has had a turbulent offseason dealing with medical and personal issues. General manager Danny Ferry and a support team helping the guard decided West was not ready to play.

West has bipolar disorder and blamed an arrest last month on weapons charges near his home in Maryland on not staying with his medications. As the Cavs were introduced before the game, West leaned against a wall in the tunnel leading to Cleveland's locker room.

James finished with eight assists, made four 3-poiners and delivered two spectacular chase-down blocks.

Wearing a pair of headphones with blue Yankees pinstripes and NY logo, James, who can become a free agent after the season, stretched out before the game in the locker room listening to Young Jeezy's "24, 23," a song that includes lyrics about Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and James.

"I used to play Kobe, but now I play LeBron," James rapped loudly while eyeing a flat-screen TV.

He wasn't singing afterward.

"Boston is a great team," James said. "I think we can all say that we probably will see each other in the postseason. We will be around."

The circus-like atmosphere outside the arena was more befitting an NBA finals game in June than an October opener. Cleveland fans have been waiting months for this night, the tip-off to a season already unlike any in the franchise's 40-year history.

On the other side of Ontario Street, a billboard said, "It Begins." What matters to the Cavs, though, is how it ends.

"They're going to be great," Rivers said of the Cavs. "Shaq's a great player and LeBron, if he's not the best, he's 1A. I've heard a lot of talk about Shaq clogging up stuff, but you can't leave Shaq so it's going to actually open it up more for LeBron. They're going to be a tough basketball team."

James had a basket taken away when the officials reviewed a layup in the final minute. It was the first use of the NBA's expanded instant-replay system, which allows officials to check to see if a shot has gotten off before the 24-second shot clock expires.


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