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Published: Wednesday, 10/28/2009

Celtics spoil Cavs' debut

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND - The reunited Big Three - and Rasheed - are one up on the Big Two.

Paul Pierce scored 23 points, Ray Allen 16 and Kevin Garnett 13 in his first regular-season game since last March as the Boston Celtics beat Cleveland 95-89 on last night in the NBA season opener, spoiling the hyped debut of the Cavaliers with LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal.

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 and 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who won their first 23 home games last season but are already 0-1 on their floor.

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.

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 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.

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.

The circus-like atmosphere outside the arena was more befitting an NBA finals game than an 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.

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

NOTES: The Cavs have shown interest in free agent G Antonio Daniels, who had his contract bought by Minnesota during the preseason. Brown and Ferry worked with Daniels in San Antonio. Daniels cleared waivers yesterday.



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