BOSTON (AP)—LeBron James watched from the bench in street clothes. The show he saw wasn’t very pretty.
“There’ll be no video on this game, hopefully,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It was not a piece of art.”
Boston plodded to an 80-70 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. But the NBA’s leading scorer was sidelined with a sprained finger, the NBA’s best team had little energy, and the crowd that showed up for the rare 12:30 p.m. start was subdued.
“Afternoon games aren’t one of my favorites to begin with,” Boston’s Kevin Garnett said.
He and Paul Pierce each scored under 10 points. Garnett had only nine in 26 minutes two games after his streak of 435 games, including playoffs, of scoring in double figures ended when he had eight points in 23 minutes of a 104-59 win over the New York Knicks.
“We just didn’t have the energy we normally come out with,” said Pierce, who had seven points in 30 minutes. “I don’t know if part of it was (the game) being early. I don’t know if part of it was LeBron not playing, but we usually come out with a better start.”
James, who missed his second straight game, is day-to-day, Cleveland coach Mike Brown said.
The Celtics led just 43-39 at the end of a slow-paced first half. It was 48-44 before an 8-point run put them ahead 56-44 with 4:52 left in the third quarter.
That’s when Cleveland called a timeout. James, watching from his bench in street clothes, smiled and gestured toward Boston’s Scot Pollard, who played on Cleveland’s Eastern Conference finalists last season.
“When King James goes down, you feel like you have to carry the team by yourself offensively,” Drew Gooden said. “I think we are started to get better at doing that, but then again that is not our identity. Our identity is having him make plays for us.”
On Tuesday night, the Cavaliers handed the Celtics one of their two losses of the season, 109-104 in overtime at Cleveland. James scored 38 points, 11 of them in overtime, and added 13 assists.
But the next night in a 109-74 loss in Detroit, James sprained his left index finger in the second quarter. Cleveland lost again Friday night, 91-82 at Toronto.
“Like in Toronto, the effort was there,” Brown said, “but we’ve got to find a way to score.”
Boston improved to an NBA best 14-2 and was led by Ray Allen with 20 points and Rajon Rondo with 12. Cleveland was led by Zydrunas Ilgauskas with 12 points and 13 rebounds and Sasha Pavlovic with 11 points. Gooden had a double-double at halftime and finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“We anticipated Lebron playing,” Garnett said. “He didn’t, but the world doesn’t stop. The game definitely doesn’t stop.”
Last season, without Garnett and Allen, the Celtics didn’t get their 14th win until Feb. 26, their 56th game—40 more than it took this season. They’re 9-0 at home one season after getting their ninth win there on March 14, their 32nd home game.
“As much as we have our comforts here at home, you start to extend those on the road and it makes you better on the road, too,” Allen said.
Boston took its biggest lead, 77-56. Then, with substitutes on the floor, Cleveland cut the lead in the final five minutes but never threatened.
“The Celtics turned it up coming out of halftime, put pressure on us and we didn’t handle the pressure,” Brown said.
“Big Baby is the personality of the Boston Celtics,” Garnett said, using Davis’ college nickname at LSU. “He has an aura around him which followed him, which he carries on and off the court.”
In the first half, Cleveland capitalized with Boston’s starters on the bench and took its biggest lead of the game, 30-23 midway through the second quarter. It was 32-27 by the time all five Celtics starters were back in the court.
Ilgauskas hit a free throw before the Celtics scored the next nine points for a 36-33 lead. Ray Allen had four of the points, including a stuff that ended the run after he stole the ball at midcourt.
The Celtics won despite hitting just 37.5 percent of their shots and going only 2-for-14 from 3-point range. The Cavaliers were even worse with a 32.9 field goal percentage.
The Celtics had played back-to-back 8 p.m. games before flying home from Miami on Saturday.
“Our bodies are tired,” Pierce said. “So we had to come in here and be mentally ready.”
All of Boston’s 14 first-half field goals came inside the paint. … Devin Brown started in place of James and was scoreless on four shots in 21 minutes. … Each team was assessed two technical fouls. Boston also was hit with two technicals for defensive 3 seconds.