Victory march ends homestand
Outstanding play in fourth quarter sends Cavaliers to win over Celtics. James leads way with 36 points
By Brian Windhorst
Beacon Journal sportswriter
CLEVELAND - LeBron James' fourth-quarter prowess is flourishing by the game. Per the master plan, his Cavalier teammates are doing the same.
There was no one dramatic moment Friday night, as there has been recently, just a 12-minute final march led by James that resulted in a 94-82 Cavs win over the Boston Celtics. It completed a 4-0 homestand, restored the Cavs (40-29) to their high-water mark of the season at 11 games over .500 and reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to three.
That final spread belies how tight the game was. Boston led by as many as nine points in the second half, but it does indicate just how strongly the Cavs finished. James scored 19 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter, the most points he's scored in a quarter this season, as the Cavs dusted the Celtics (29-41) 36-23 down the stretch.
He did it by making six of his eight shot attempts and all five free throws in the fourth. It was the third consecutive game the Cavs put it together in the final minutes to find victory, and James' fingerprints are all over them.
In case you'd forgotten, in the victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday, James had 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including the game-winning basket.
Equally as important to the outcome Friday was James' defense on Celtics star Paul Pierce in the final quarter. Defending him for most of the fourth, James held Pierce to 0-of-6 shooting and just four points. Pierce finished with 24 points but was just 6-of-20 from the field.
"I tried to be physical with him,'' James said. "I did a great job of moving my feet and I got my hand on a few balls as he was going up.''
James' hands were everywhere on defense. He had three blocks and two steals on the night, but he also had three of his eight assists in the fourth quarter and four of his seven rebounds.
Two of those assists went to Donyell Marshall, who has been following James' lead in picking up his game in crunch time.
Enduring the worst shooting season of his career, Marshall made three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for nine of his 14 points. Over the last three games, he's made six of his 10 3-point tries and 12-of-19 overall.
After his biggest make, a rainbow 3 with 1:17 left that put the Cavs up by nine points, Damon Jones leapt into his arms. Jones, who didn't score but had three steals, and Marshall have become a support system for each other.
"We haven't shot the ball that well this year and a lot of people have been down on us,'' Marshall said. "We're not happy with the way we've played this season, either.''
But there were all smiles this night as the Cavs won their sixth consecutive home game. After missing their first 11 shots, the Cavs shot 51 percent the rest of the way. They also held the Celtics to 37 percent shooting.
Surely beating the Celtics, like the Bobcats, isn't reason for a gala celebration. But the way they've performed in the clutch of late has confidence rising.
"These games are important no matter who we play and we've been closing them out,'' Marshall said. "You've got to learn to win all those games and we're starting to do that.''
LeBron James scored a game-high 36 points against the Celtics
Marshall ignites Cavaliers
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Plain Dealer Reporter
Donyell Marshall heard the jeers and the critics after each missed basket as his once deadly outside shot started to fail him.
Marshall, who hit 12 3-pointers in a game last season, begged to do half as much.
"I came here to shoot the 3 and I wasn't shooting the ball well," Marshall said. "You read about not shooting well and sometimes you get down. When you have a game like this, it helps your confidence, and at this point of the season we need as much of that as we can."
Marshall nailed three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help hold off the Boston Celtics, and the Cavaliers finished with a 94-82 victory on Friday night at The Q.
Marshall finished with 14 points and four 3-pointers. They were the most points he's scored since he had 19 against Washington on Feb. 24 and the most 3-pointers he's had since getting four on Jan. 24 against the Atlanta Hawks.
"Any time [Marshall's] open, we have confidence in getting him the ball to take the shot," said LeBron James, who finished with 36 points and eight assists. "He caught fire [Friday night] and that was great to see."
The Cavs recovered from a sluggish first quarter where they missed their first 11 shots, which included several blown layups. The Cavs trailed by one at the end of the third but the Cavs produced 36 points in the fourth quarter to help pull out the victory.
The Cavs (40-29) have won four straight and their magic number to solidify their first playoff berth in eight years is down to three. Making the playoffs is almost guaranteed but advancing beyond the first round is another matter. Continued improvement in their outside shooting would enhance the Cavs' chances.
"When Donyell and Damon [Jones] are shooting the way they're shooting now makes us a whole lot better," said Cavs coach Mike Brown. "It spreads the floor and that gives LeBron James driving lanes and that gives Flip Murray driving lanes and it allows [Zydrunas Ilgauskas] to post up and play one-on-one basketball. . . . I know [Marshall and Jones] will come through and they have."
The Cavs trailed by one at the end of the third but generated a rally and led by three with 4:11 left. Marshall nailed a 3-pointer at the top of the key for a six-point lead with 3:37 left. The Cavs still led by three with two minutes left but Marshall got free in the corner and splashed his final 3-pointer for an 88-79 lead with 1:17 left. Marshall was so elated with the basket that he and Jones bumped chests and hugged at midcourt.
"I was just so happy for him because there's been constant criticism on how Donyell and even myself have shot this year," Jones said. "But every game down the stretch is important as we get ready for the playoffs. It's imperative that we have good ball movement and have guys step up. [Friday night] Donyell stepped up and that's a good thing."
It was even better that the Cavs were impressive while closing out the game. James scored on a layup and he followed that with a steal and 3-pointer with 17 seconds left.
Defense pays off big time
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Plain Dealer Reporter
The defensive preachings of Cavaliers coach Mike Brown have run hot and cold throughout the season.
They ran hot in Friday night's 94-82 victory over the Boston Celtics at The Q.
Covering for each other and rotating as well as they have in weeks, the Cavaliers held the Celtics to 37.2 percent (29-of-78) shooting from the field.
It was the third lowest an opposing team shot in 69 games, topped only by the Pistons shooting 35.8 percent in December and Memphis shooting 36 percent in November.
"[The Cavaliers] played really good defense tonight," said Celtics All-Star forward Paul Pierce, who was 6-of-20 from the field for 24 points. Defended by Eric Snow early and LeBron James late, Pierce missed 9 of 11 field-goal attempts in 21 minutes of the second half.
"I do think I got quality looks," said Pierce, "but I just did not hit them."
The Celtics averaged 103 points in the first two games of this series, both losses.
"I think [the Cavaliers] are a much better defensive team now than when we played them earlier in the season," said Boston reserve Brian Scalabrine, who scored four points in 16 minutes.
"They are making you do some things you don't want to do."
The Celtics (29-41) took a 59-58 lead into the fourth quarter, but were outscored, 36-23, to lose for the fifth time in six games on the road.
The Cavaliers (40-29) shot 63 percent (12-of-19) from the field in the fourth - including 5-of-6 from 3-point range. Nineteen of James' game-high 36 points were scored in the fourth.
"LeBron was great; he was phenomenal," said Boston coach Doc Rivers, "but I would not just focus on him.
"As good as he was, [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas and [Donyell] Marshall hit some big baskets for them."
Ilgauskas scored seven of his 11 points in the second half; Marshall had nine of his 14 points in the fourth, when he hit 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
Two free throws by Wally Szczerbiak with 1:33 left in the fourth cut the Cavaliers' lead to 85-79, but a Marshall made 3-pointer, parlayed with a Pierce missed 3-pointer that put it out of reach.