Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers  Saturday, Dec 21, 2002  7:30pm
Celtics vs Cleveland

Tonight's game followed on the heels of the impressive victory the Celtics had against the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Within the last week, the Celtics had beaten up the Cavaliers with a 42 point first quarter, and were looking to repeat that kind of game tonight.

First Quarter:

Cleveland opened the game by attacking the basket on every offensive possession, immediately out rebounding the Celtics, which was a cause for concern.  Eric Williams opened up the Celtics scoring with three-point shot.  After the first couple of possessions, the Celtics defense began to settle in, very nearly forcing a shot clock violation.  Another Celtics rebound led to an open three by Tony Delk.  At least in the early opening, it appeared that the Celtics were shooting well.

Eric Williams went to make a slam, but got soundly rejected, which led to a Cleveland basket.  Tony Battie paid them back with a rejection of his own, then added insult to injury by dunking the ball himself at the other end.

“Miracle” Milt Palacio obviously still remembers how the Celtics like to play, and set Paul Pierce up for an offensive foul.  Cleveland tried running the ball inside, managed to draw the foul against Tony Delk.  However justice prevailed at the free throw line as “Smoosh” Parker - what a great name - went 1-2.

Strong defense got the ball to Antoine Walker in the open court, and he easily sank the basket; leading to a timeout with 6:08 remaining with Boston leading 14-5.  With a basket after the timeout, Antoine Walker eclipsed the 10,000-point barrier, becoming the second fastest Celtic to 10,000 points, behind Larry Bird; and the 12th Celtics player overall to do so.

The Celtics were trying something different tonight.  Instead of leaving Tony Battie under the basket, they were feeding him the ball and letting him drive to the hoop from the foul line.  It seemed to be working very well against Cleveland.  Baker came in and had a chance to rebound an Antoine Walker miss, but was soundly rejected.

Then Paul Pierce made one of those hard drives to the basket that ends up looking good, strong, and getting to the free throw line to make it an old-fashioned three-point play.  Following another timeout with 2:51 remaining, Boston led 21-14.

After the timeout, Walker had a three that didn't go, but Baker rebounded it and got back out to Walker, who drove straight to the basket for two.  Ricky Davis got a rebound past the Celtics defense and slammed the pumpkin through the hoop.  Then Wagner, on the next play, seemed to be faced by every single member of the Celtics team on his way to the hoop, finally drawing the foul.

The Celtics shooting had cooled off, and Cleveland had started pushing harder to make offensive rebounds, with the result that they were managing to close the gap, and ended up taking the last shot of the quarter - which missed - ending the first quarter with the Celtics ahead 25-18.
 

Second Quarter:

The second-quarter opened with Cleveland continuing to make a run against Boston culminating when Ilgauskas went to the free throw line and tied the game at 25 with 10:27 to go.  Shammond Williams responded with a basket of his own.  Kedrick Brown came in and had a nice basket.  By this time, the Celtics had established a 31-25 lead.  Paul Pierce then anticipated another Cleveland fast break and stole the alley-oop pass  But Cleveland came back on a 6-0 run, and tied the game at 33 with 6:15 to go as a timeout was called.

The Celtics shooting was suffering, although their defense forced Cleveland to work hard enough that at least neither team was getting too far ahead as yet.

The Celtics had so far failed to score in nearly three minutes, and it showed every sign of getting to be a longer drought.  Paul Pierce broke that scoreless run with a three-point shot.  But by this time, Cleveland had established a lead.  Things were rapidly getting out of hand, and the Good Guys needed to get some offense going, quickly.

Bruno came into the game, and quickly scored a basket.  The substitutions of the Celtics were unusual tonight, to say the least.  I had not expected Kedrick to get into the game nearly this early, much less Bruno.  A timeout was called with 2:34 to go in the second quarter, and Cleveland leading 44-40.

Carlos Boozer was making life difficult for Boston at the offensive end, hitting several jumpers.  The Celtics were not able to answer, and Cleveland continued its offensive onslaught courtesy of Davis.  Cleveland was extending its lead, and Boston couldn't seem to get any baskets - and unlike the Minnesota game, the C’s weren’t getting any trips to the free throw line either.  A timeout was called with 1:24 to go with Cleveland holding a 50-40 lead.  Cleveland had outscored the Celtics 23-7 in the last six plus minutes.  About the only thing the Celtics did successfully was when Antoine Walker picked up a technical foul.  Cleveland was out rebounding Boston 29-18.

The first half ended with Cleveland leading 53-42.
 

HALFTIME

Cookie Break!!

The Celtics started out the game very well, and quickly disintegrated into the same kind of bad play - on offense at least - that led to the two defeats they had against Chicago and Miami.  Their defense was not sufficient to stop the Cleveland attack, and their offense seemed to have disappeared almost entirely.  Over the last 16:32 of the first half, Cleveland outscored the Celtics 46-24.  The Cavs had responded to the 25-18 first quarter from Boston by handing the Good Guys a 35-17 second quarter.

The Celtics—Walker in particular, had nothing going beyond the arc, and on those occasions when they’d gone to the hoop, got little, if anything.  They were being seriously out rebounded by Cleveland, and in general, things were Not Good.

The Celtics were going to have to shore up their defense against this tough Cleveland team, and they absolutely had to get something going on offense -- without trying to put to the entire load on Pierce and Walker.

Cookie Break!!
 
 

Third Quarter:
 

Wagner was still hitting from the outside, as Cleveland was 5-13 from the arc, and now led by 15 points.  Another basket led to a timeout with 10 minutes remaining, and Cleveland leading 61-44.

After the timeout, Paul Pierce attempted to make some headway with a basket.  One factor that was mentioned, and it was a noticeable factor, was the Celtics had not been able force a great deal of turnovers off the Cleveland team.  The Cavaliers were taking very good care of the basketball.  The Celtics did manage to force a 24-second violation on the Cavaliers, and hopefully this would give the Celtics some incentive to close the ever-widening gap.

Cleveland then broke down the Celtics defense, and opened up a 19-point lead with 6:10 to go. Then Pierce took command of the ball, going the length of the court to score to while drawing the foul.  He made both free throws (YAY), and closed the gap just a little bit.  Cleveland held a 13-7 edge in fast break points.  Mercifully, they timeout was called with 3:47 to go in the quarter, and Cleveland leading 67-51.

With 1:42 remaining, the Celtics had made a run to cut the score to 69-60.  Pierce and Walker had scored 36 of those 60 points, well over their usual average of the 48.9% of the Celtic offense they normally accounted for.  It’s not that they were playing spectacularly—in fact, Walker was having a rough night—but the rest of the team had been that bad.

After several physical possessions on both sides of the court, the quarter ended with Cleveland leading 73-63.  The Celtics had managed to cut the Cleveland lead in half while outscoring the Cavs in the quarter 21-20, which gave the Good Guys a chance to win this game in the fourth quarter.
 

Fourth Quarter:

The quarter opened with Paul Pierce taking it hard to the hoop for two, and cutting the Cleveland lead to 8 points.  The Cavs weren’t able to score on the ensuing possession, and Pierce took the rebound.

That’s when things got ugly.

Pierce took the ball over center court, and passed it up to Delk, who was at the arc.  Delk then passed it back to Pierce, who was now at the top of the key with 11:20 to go.  Pierce drove left, then right, crossing the free throw line on a direct path to the hoop, having beat his man.  Ilgauskas was the only thing between him and the basket.  Ilgauskas was stepping up from just inside the half-circle under the hoop.

As Pierce went up with the ball, Ilgauskas threw up his right arm, as Pierce lifted the ball over his own right shoulder.  Ilgauskas’ elbow slammed into the oncoming Pierce, hitting him in the right eye.  Ilgauskas apparently intended to block Pierce from the left, while reaching across Pierce’s body to get to the ball.  Ilgauskas had started from the right of the oncoming Pierce, and he should have stayed right.  He might have gotten a strip.

Pierce came down, though he kept his feet, and immediately brought his hand up over his right eye.
He was in obvious pain.  I thought, “It’s a hard foul, possibly flagrant”, and hoped Pierce wasn’t seriously injured.

Violet Palmer was standing no more than five feet away when it happened and had a perfect view of what was obviously a foul of some kind.  She started walking toward Ilgauskas, who had grabbed the ball and negligently flipped it up toward the hoop.  Pierce had stumbled to the backboard support, and turned around back toward the court, his hand still over his face, as Ilgauskas was facing Violet, who in turn was looking at the ball.  Ilgauskas had walked directly across Pierce’s path, not really paying attention, as I don’t think it had yet registered on him that Pierce was hurt.

Pierce was trying to get by to reach the bench—and hopefully, an ice pack—and leaned into Ilgauskas, his eyes closed and in obvious pain.  Pierce shoved Ilgauskas out of his way, and looked like he was continuing toward the bench, when Ilgauskas caught his footing and turned around.  Violet was moving toward Pierce now, trying to keep things from getting any worse.  Tony Battie had also moved in from the court, stepping between Pierce and Ilgauskas.

As Ilgauskas predictably went after Pierce, Battie extended his arm to block Ilgauskas, as Violet reached toward Pierce, with her off arm also blocking Ilgauskas.  She pushed Pierce away, which also turned him fully toward the oncoming Ilgauskas.  Battie leaned his whole body into Ilgauskas, who tried to elbow his way toward Pierce.  In the process, that right arm, which Violet had been leaning on, went up.  Violet is about two feet shorter, and the left side of her body started going up, hanging from Ilgauskas’ offending elbow.  Violet lost her balance and went down.  By now, four Cav players, including Milt Palacio, surrounded Pierce and Battie.

Battie reached down, trying to grab Violet’s arm to steady her, and missed, accidentally grabbing something more personal.  His hand shot back with appreciable speed.  :>)  Violet regained her balance, as several of Ilgauskas’ teammates got between him and Pierce.  The entire group moved down court away from the hoop, as Ilgauskas now wanted to perhaps demonstrate what else his elbow could do.  Meanwhile, Pierce, I suspect, had gotten quite tired of being treated like the Official Punching Bag of the NBA, and was more than happy to let Ilgauskas discover this for himself.  The other players on court got between the two men, and one of the other refs came up behind Pierce, restraining his left arm.  Battie was helping two Cav players keep Ilgauskas from making things worse.

Ilgauskas took a swipe at Pierce, but couldn’t quite reach him, and the other ref got his body in front of Pierce while several people hauled Ilgauskas in the other direction.  Tony Delk came in and pushed Ilgauskas’ hand down as the other ref pushed Pierce away.  Battie gave Ilgauskas a love tap as he pushed him away.  By this time, the third official had gone all the way to the floor.  His only hope of impeding Ilgauskas was if he tripped over him on his way to get Pierce.

Cavalier Coach Lucas came onto the court, pointing at Pierce, presumably not uttering sweet nothings.  Jim O’Brien moved in on defense and cut Lucas off.  By this time, Pierce had been nudged back to the arc, while Ilgauskas and the group around him was nearly back under the hoop.

Pierce wandered back to center court, still looking dazed and in some pain, while Ilgauskas had gone back to the Cav bench.  He was bent over almost double, with a towel to his face.  Several minutes later, he was still hurting.  He’s taken a couple of shots to the head recently, and I expect he’s getting tired of it.  By the way, a doctor examined Pierce, and he has a scratched cornea.

The refs decided to eject both Ilgauskas and Pierce.  This was very bad for the Celtics, as Pierce had been the man most responsible for bringing the Celtics back into the game.

This could be disastrous for the Celtics, as now the rest of their players would have to pick up the scoring slack -- which so for they had not been able to do all night long.

Since Pierce was ejected after the brief fight, Cleveland selected Vin Baker to shoot the free throws Pierce would have gotten for the original foul.  Baker hit both free throws, as justice prevailed.

This cut the lead to seven points, as the Celtics forced a turnover of the other end to regain possession of the ball.  The Celtics could not capitalize on that, and ended up fouling Cleveland at the other end.  The Celtics had evidently decided to shift their offense over to Eric Williams in place of Paul Pierce.  Antoine Walker got a hold of the ball, and dropped it off to Tony Delk, who took a good shot that rattled in and out.

As play progressed, Eric Williams went to the free throw line, and cut the lead to 4.  The Celtics played tough defense, and ended up with possession of the ball, obviously intending to do more damage offensively.  The Cleveland Cavaliers had gone six minutes without a field goal, and the Boston defense tried to extend that.  The Celtics obviously intended to keep shooting the three no matter what.  Tony Delk had some good looks, but they just were not going in.  The Celtics were fortunate that Cleveland wasn't able to get anything gotten offensively, or this game would have been over.

With 7:40 to go, Cleveland led 75-71, as a timeout was called.  Coming out of the timeout, Cleveland have another turnover.  This was giving Boston a fighting chance, which Walker made the most of as he scored another basket and cut the Cleveland lead to 2.

Tony Battie hit an open shot from the free throw line.  With 6:45 to go in the quarter.  Cleveland had gone over eight minutes without scoring a field goal.  Not that I was complaining, mind you; as far as I was concerned, they could go the rest of the game without scoring a field goal, and I would be quite happy.

With 6:21 to go, Tony Battie went to the line and gave Boston its first lead since the early part of the second quarter.  It was now nine minutes since Cleveland last scored a field goal.  The timeout was called with 5:53 to go and Boston holding a 76-75 lead.  After the timeout, the Celtics played tougher defense, almost stealing the ball twice in the same possession.  With 4:53 to go Carlos Boozer scored, finally getting a Cleveland field goal.

Cleveland had gone to the free throw line, making one out of two, and taking a two-point lead as the Celtics got the ball.  Walker went to the basket and was fouled, sending him to line.  Unfortunately Walker also went 1-2,making it a 78-77 game with four minutes to go, as Cleveland took possession of the ball.  Tony Delk is normally a pretty reliable shorter, but shot a very nasty air ball instead of wisely waiting for a better shot.

Then Shammond Williams took care of things by going to the hoop, getting the basket, and getting fouled, sending him to the line following a timeout with 2:51 to go.  Following the timeout, Cleveland took possession of the ball with a one-point lead.  The Celtics gave the ball to Walker; who gave the Celtics the lead again.  Cleveland had had exactly one field goal in nearly 13 minutes.  Cleveland took a  20-second timeout with 1:49 to go, and Boston holding an 81-80 lead.

Cleveland was shooting eight percent in the fourth-quarter that's always nice to see.  After the timeout, they got no better as Tony Battie took a rebound and Boston took the ball up court.  Once again the Celtics went to Walker, who drew the foul and went to the lined to shoot two.  Walker hit the first one to give the Celtics a two point lead but he had not been shooting well at free throw line this season - going 61.3 percent and 4-5 tonight before this shot, which went in!  The Celtics now led by three points with 1:15 to go.

Cleveland went to the line with 1:08 to go, made both, and the Celtics lead was down to one again.  Shammond Williams took the ball over half court, gave it to Eric Williams, who gave it to Antoine Walker, who wait in for a quick basket.  The score was now 85-82, as Cleveland failed to score from the field yet again.  The Celtics took the ball up as Cleveland desperately tried to foul or steal.  It did not work, and Celtics took time of clock before timeout was called with 33.7 seconds to go, with Boston leading 85-82.

After the timeout, Walker's three missed – as it had all night - but Eric Williams took the rebound, giving the Celtics a fresh clock.  Walker took the ball, and was quickly fouled.  There were now 20.1 seconds to go in the game as Walker went to the line.  Walker made both shots, to give the Celtics a five point lead. Cleveland was shooting at six percent on 1-17 shooting for the fourth quarter.

Following the timeout Cleveland tried a deep three which did not go.  Shammond Williams took the rebound, and was immediately fouled.  There were now 15 seconds left in the game as Shammond went to the line to shoot two.  They went in, giving the Celtics a 7 point lead as Cleveland took the ball, missing everything on a deep three.  They did not bother to foul Walker as he took the rebound, and Walker dribbled out the clock, giving Boston the victory at 89-82, in a game that was ultimately won by defense and at the free throw line.

The Celtics had outscored the Cavaliers 26-9 in the final quarter.  Pierce had left after scoring two points just before the play that led to his ejection at the very start of the final quarter, and was still the high scorer for Boston.  Part of the Cavs’ low score in the final quarter was the C’s defense.  Part was that when they did take a shot, it was often a bad one, with Boston getting the rebound.

It was somewhat ironic that in facing a team with the worst record defending the three, that Walker and Delk didn’t make any.

Boston ultimately outshot Cleveland overall, going 30-76 for 39%, while holding Cleveland to 29-81 for 35%.  The threes favored Cleveland, which had a 29% rate, going 5-17;  Boston made 4-23 for 17%.  Free throws ultimately favored Boston.  Cleveland had a better percentage, going 19-24 for 79%; but Boston’s 73% was on 25-34 shooting at the line.  The Cavs easily out rebounded the Celtics, 50-37.

HEROES AND ZEROS:

Heroes:

Paul Pierce the player:  26 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block.  He was the Celtics high scorer and only played a total of 32 minutes.

Antoine Walker:  23 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.  He also took over the game after Pierce left, proving to naysayers that he darn well earned his Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.

Eric Williams:  14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and shouldered the burden with Walker after Pierce left.

Kedrick Brown: 2 points, 1 rebound in 6 minutes.  He’s looking more athletic than he was.

Bruno Sundov: 2 points in 3 minutes, plus filling up the middle more than he had been.  He’s still got a ways to go, but at least he didn’t make things worse.

Tony Battie:  7 points, 2 rebounds, 4 blocks and 1 assist.  He also gets points for being a gentleman.  :>)

Walter McCarty: 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal.  He made his presence known in other ways too.
 
 

IN-BETWEEN:

Celtics free throw shooting:  I would normally give a Zero for 73% at the line, but the free throws helped win the game, so it’s a wash.  Please, guys, keep working on those free throws.
 

Zeros:

Vin Baker:  2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal.  On the plus side, he only had 1 foul.  But he needs to get more involved.  Great Things are officially expected of him now.

Tony Delk:  2 points, 2 rebounds.  Bleah.

Paul Pierce the Punching Bag:  Yes, he’s been taking a beating.  But Violet had called the foul on Ilgauskas, and he really didn’t need to start shoving the guy around.  At that point of the game, he was the main part of the Celtics offense, and his ejection could easily have been a total disaster.  I’’ cut him some slack, since this is abnormal behavior for him—usually he keeps hold of his temper better than that.

The Celtics now get a real rest before the Christmas Day match up against the New Jersey Nets on national television.  For some reason, the C’s never play well on Holidays, and the Nets are a tough team on ANY day.  Let’s hope that the various bumps and bruises heal before then.  Boston is torn between a need to practice and a need to get some rest.  Given the situation, I’d say let them off the hook and give them some much-needed peace and quiet.  Ok.  Maybe a 30-minute free throw drill.  :>)

And that’s the view from the doghouse.
1st Q 2nd Q 3rd Q 4th Q Final
Celtics 25 17 21 26 89
Cavaliers 18 35 20 9 82