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Published: Saturday, 5/17/2008

Cavaliers force Game 7 in Boston

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Cavaliers packed for a weekend stay in Beantown - not a few weeks on Cape Cod.

They've got at least one more game left, and in the NBA, it's as big as they ever get.

Game 7. Tomorrow. In Boston.

LeBron James scored 32 points - 19 in the second half - and the Cavaliers forced a decisive and fitting finale to this home-sweet-home playoff series with a 74-69 victory last night over the Celtics, who have gone from regular-season road kings to postseason road kill.

"It was either win or go home," James said. "I'm not ready to go home."

James, whose jump shot has mysteriously been missing in this series, made two key baskets midway through the fourth quarter to slow a Boston comeback, Wally Szczerbiak hit a 3-pointer with 2:10 remaining, and Joe Smith dropped two free throws with 14 seconds left as the Cavs moved the series back to the East Coast.

The Cavs are attempting to become the 14th team to overcome an 0-2 deficit and win a series, and to do so, the defending Eastern Conference champions will have to win in Boston, where the Celtics are 7-0 in the postseason and play like a team with title potential.

On the road, they're 0-6 and just ordinary.

Still, the Celtics feel good about going home.

"Mentally we feel like we're a confident team," Paul Pierce said. "We've been in Game 7s before, and we feel like this is a game we let slip away. Hopefully, we can go home and take care of business."

The Celtics are 15-3 in Game 7s at home, but the Cavaliers may have some confidence playing on the parquet after nearly winning Games 1 and 5.

Kevin Garnett scored 25 points, Pierce 16, and Ray Allen just nine on 3-of-8 shooting. The Celtics got just two points from guard Rajon Rondo, who scored 20 in their Game 5 win. Boston's point total was the second lowest in franchise playoff history and the fewest points ever given up by Cleveland in the postseason.

Afterward, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was still fuming over some calls he felt went against his team.

"Tell the refs to do the interview. They were just as important," an angry Rivers shouted at a team official as he walked back from the postgame news conference.

James added 12 rebounds, Delonte West had 10 points, and Smith came off the bench to add nine, none bigger than his two free throws that closed out the Celtics.

Leading by nine at halftime, the Cavs began the third quarter with seven straight points from James to open a 51-36 lead.

But just when it appeared the Celtics were in major trouble, they responded behind Garnett, who scored eight points in a 13-0 spurt that pulled Boston within three. James finally ended Cleveland's offensive lapse with a layup and the Cavs got a tip-in and fling-in from Anderson Varejao for a 59-50 lead entering the fourth.

Garnett's jumper pulled the Celtics within 65-60 before James scored on a drive, and the all-star hit an off-balance 17-foot jumper to make it 69-60. Eddie House made a 3-pointer for Boston, but Szczerbiak, who missed his first five 3-pointers, finally got one to go down, giving Cleveland a 72-63 lead.

Boston hung around as the Cavs came up empty on several possessions. The Celtics were within five when Pierce was whistled for a questionable charge. Allen made two free throws to bring Boston within 72-69, but Smith stepped to the line and as 20,000-plus fans fell deadly silent, made the two biggest free throws of his 13-year career.

When the final horn sounded, James fired the ball to the other end, and the Cavs left their home floor hoping they can get another chance to play on it again this season.

The Cavaliers played without injured guard Daniel Gibson, one of their best outside shooters who helped close out the Detroit Pistons in last year's conference finals.



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