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The Celtics began their 2009-2010 season in convincing style, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 95-89. It was the first time in nine attempts that the Celtics won on the road against Cleveland. The Celtics began the game very slowly, missing shots and turning the ball over multiple times. They quickly found themselves losing by 14 points, as the Cavs dominated offensively, led by early success from Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James, who finished the game with a whopping 38 points to go along with his four blocked shots and eight assists. The Celtics closed the first quarter with a solid 14-7 run, however, which cut the lead back to a more manageable seven points.
The tide turned in the Celtics favor as the bench was substituted into the game. In the first half alone, the bench put up 17 points against the Cavaliers’ two, which contributed to a 10-3 run, ending the half with the Celtics leading by six. The star of the bench? None other than newcomer Rasheed Wallace, who led the bench with 12 points and 3 three-point shots. Three-point shooting was another decisive factor that led to the Celtics’ victory tonight. The Celtics made nine three-point shots tonight to the Cavaliers’ six, one of which came during garbage time in the final two minutes.
The Celtics came out of the half looking just as strong as they did before, opening up the game with a solid 10-2 run that pushed the lead to 15. The Cavaliers’ defense looked weak, and its offense looked stagnant, holding the ball for too long, never getting off the passes needed to overcome the Celtics’ suffocating defense. Unfortunately, the Celtics became a little overconfident and started to play sloppy basketball. The turnover problem that plagued them in the first quarter returned, and the shooting went cold. Paul Pierce, who led the Celtics’ scorers at the half with 13, failed to score at all during the third quarter. As the shooting cooled, the Cavaliers began to heat up. The Cleveland crowd, which had quieted in the face of the Celtics’ mid-game domination, returned in force when a combination of a James block and an O’Neal dunk swung momentum back in Cleveland’s favor. Cleveland finished the quarter with a solid 18-10 run to close out the third quarter.
I wouldn’t say that the Celtics played particularly well in the fourth quarter. The shooting still was cold. The defense turned sloppy, putting the Cavaliers on the free-throw line with seven minutes still to go in the quarter, and overall the sync and flow seemed to have left the Celtics, no matter what combination of players they tried out on the court. Thankfully, a Rasheed Wallace three-pointer here, a Paul Pierce bucket there (he finished the game with 23 points and 11 rebounds), and the Celtics held on for the victory. Up six at the half, they went on to win by the same margin, making the entire second half a wash.
Overall, the Celtics certainly started the season off on the right foot. They won a tough road game against a very talented team. The win may come back to help them when playoff seeding occurs. This team looks like it can become one that can do well in the playoffs. All of the key seeds are there: the starters can all still play, Kevin Garnett is finally back on the floor, the bench has depth and ability, and the team can execute stifling defense and high-speed offense. As long as the team stays healthy and continues to grow, they will be very tough to beat. Tonight was a good win and there will be many more.