The Cavs outscored the Celtics 13-5 the final five minutes, scrapping and hustling and playing good defense down the stretch. Boston led by 11 in the third quarter, but could not sustain the lead. Boston either was a victim of a scrappy Cleveland team or their weariness from traveling after playing an emotional opener against Miami the night before.
Cleveland's crowd loved every minute. A sellout was loud from the get-go, and loudest at the end. Among those who stood and applauded the team's effort was owner Dan Gilbert, who said before the game he had no regrets about sending his now famous letter once James announced he was going to Miami.
Cavs Start Faster Than Heat, Even With Those Talents in South Beach
FIRST QUARTER: Celtics 23, Cavaliers 21
The game started like one that included a team that had been staggered by the loss of a two-time MVP against one that had traveled after playing the night before. Which is what it was. The Cleveland Cavaliers started the post-LeBron era with a 21-point quarter in which J. J. Hickson had 10 of his team's 21 points.
Boston got nine points from Rajon Rondo, who continued to abuse Cavs guards the same way he did in the playoffs last season. And the Celtics came within a half-second of a Glen "Big Baby" Davis three-pointer to end the quarter. A quarter that was not terribly exciting or well-played ended with Boston leading 23-21. Mo Williams did not play, as the Cavs were cautious about his strained groin muscle.
SECOND QUARTER: Celtics 47, Cavaliers 46
Early in the quarter, Ramon Sessions took the ball to the basket, right at Jermaine O'Neal. Sessions is 6-foot-3, O'Neal 7-1. O'Neal did not try to block Sessions' shot, and instead tried to take a charge. He failed. O'Neal was out of the game shortly after.
Consecutive threes by Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon gave Cavs a 37-35 lead, and Ramon Sessions had two driving baskets to give the Cavs a 46-42 lead. Boston, though scored the final five points of the half to lead by one at intermission. Sessions had 10 points in the quarter.
Boston seemed to be playing as hard as it needed to play, pointing -- as a veteran team would -- to the fourth quarter when this game would be won or lost. Doc Rivers kept the minutes for his veterans down, as only Rajon Rondo played more than 17 minutes.
THIRD QUARTER: Celtics 73, Cavaliers 68
Chase-down blocks? Keep track. Anderson Varejao did his best LeBron James when he ran down Ray Allen on the break and swatted a Ray Allen layup into the third row. Didn't matter a lot, though, as the Celtics used ball movement and transition to take a 55-48 lead before Cleveland called timeout with 9:09 to go.
Varejao tried to chase down another one later in the quarter, but Rajon Rondo went underneath the basket to lay it in with the left hand. A Paul Pierce jumper followed that gave Boston an 11-point lead, 66-55. The Celtics led 73-68 at quarter's end.
FOURTH QUARTER: Cavaliers 95, Celtics 87
The Cavs took a lead when the Celtics were called for two technical fouls on the same play. First, Nate Robinson was T'd up for kicking his leg into the crotch of Ryan Hollins when he finished a layup even though he'd been called for traveling. Shaquille O'Neal got a T for arguing the call. With 8:32 left, Cleveland's Daniel Gibson made both Ts and the Cavs led 78-77. Doc Rivers brought Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo back into the game.
Cleveland kept pestering the Celtics, and after the game was tied at 82 with a little more than five minutes left took charge. A key shot was a shot-clock beating three by Anthony Parker that gave the Cavs an 89-84 lead. It was one of the longest one seconds in NBA history as Parker was able to catch an inbounds pass, set, look and shoot -- all in a second.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE
Not everyone who leaves Cleveland is treated with derision and nastiness. Shaquille O'Neal spent one season with the Cavs before moving on to Boston. He was introduced with the starting lineup to a resounding cheer. The Cavs and their fans tried to be exuberant throughout the game, but basically relied on what new coach Byron Scott told the arena before the game: He promised nothing but maximum effort.