CLEVELAND -- The Cavaliers pulled off a highly smooth and impressive third-quarter comeback to beat the Celtics 101-93 Saturday in Game 1 of the conference semifinals.
• Mo Williams' outbreak. The Cavs were stagnant and trailing 69-58 midway through the third quarter when Williams (20 points and six assists) picked off an entry pass by Rajon Rondo and ran it back the other way for his first dunk in two years with the Cavaliers, setting him off to score a dozen points over the final 5:16 of the period. As a result they entered the fourth ahead 79-78 (for the first time since the opening minutes) on a buzzer-beating drive by LeBron James. Down the stretch they went to Shaquille O'Neal for 6 points in the fourth on a night when James was cautious about testing his injured right elbow. Williams had drawn much heat for going cold in Cleveland's conference finals loss last year to Orlando; that he was able generate a comeback on a night when James was limited was highly comforting for the Cavs, who assembled this deep and versatile team just so James wouldn't have to do all of the work.
• LeBron's elbow. James didn't attempt a jumper until the game's 20th minute, an 18-footer that bumped the front rim. Before the game he reported that his elbow was feeling better but was vulnerable to jolts of pain, and he admitted that he hadn't pushed himself during the three off-days since he was forced to attempt a left-handed free throw Tuesday in the close-out win against Chicago. "I was thinking about it a little too much,'' James admitted after this win. "I was tentative.'' But he certainly did warm up to make a trio of threes in the second half, including one in the tight fourth quarter that Paul Pierce dared him to attempt, and another that was uncontested with the floor spread to provide a clinching eight-point lead with 22 seconds left. After watching James finish with 35 points (12 of 24) with 7 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks -- on a night when he was consciously working his teammates into the game -- is to realize just how unlikely it will be for the Celtics to beat him four times in this series.
• Rajon Rondo. The Celtics' point guard (12 assists and 27 points on 10 shots) was sensational in the first half especially, when he consistently drove into the lane to complete floating runners or leave easy baskets for his teammates as all but five of Boston's 22 first-half field goals were scored from the paint. By halftime Rondo had 19 points on eight shots (6-of-6 from the line) and his eight assists were as many as Cleveland altogether. But the Cavs tightened defensively to hold Boston to 35 percent shooting over the second half, and in that time they scored 15 points off eight Celtic turnovers while limiting Rondo to 2 shots and 4 assists.
• KG & Pierce. The Celtics declared their early intentions by deflecting three Cavs passes in the opening 90 seconds. They held the Cavs to 30 percent shooting (6 of 20) in the first quarter on their way to seizing a 30-20 lead early in the second. Pierce had 10 points at halftime and Kevin Garnett (18 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes) looked more lively than he has all season while coming from the weak side to block a shot, dunking emphatically across the lane and spinning out of the block for drives and lovely turnaround jumpers. The Celtics were up 54-43 and shooting 53.7 percent at the half, but then they lapsed into the same passive habits they've established all season as Garnett was unable to take over when scoring was needed in the second half and Pierce -- who appeared overly concerned by potential foul trouble -- went 1-for-10 with two turnovers over the last two quarters while settling for contested jump shots. The Celtics were hoping to use this series against the league's No. 1 contender to suddenly become a focused 48-minute team, but this lost opportunity demonstrated why underdogs are so rarely able to change their personalities in the NBA postseason. By contrast, the Cavaliers upped their second-half intensity as if working through a checklist, as if absolutely certain they would prevail eventually.
• Frontcourt depth.Anderson Varejao scored four points but stripped the Celtics for offensive rebounds and created havoc by trapping Pierce or threatening to draw charges around the rim. J.J. Hickson were more productive attacking the seams for his 11 points than Boston's second unit frontline of Glen Davis (five points in 12 minutes) and Rasheed Wallace (1-of-5 in 13 minutes), from whom the Celtics desperately need production going into Game 2 on less than 48 hours rest.
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