Lantern file photo
For one night, Cavalier wine and gold and Celtic green replaced scarlet and gray at the Schottenstein Center.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics kick off the 2009 NBA season on Tuesday, but fireworks were already on display six days early.
A halftime brawl stole the show in the final exhibition game for both teams, as the Celtics beat the Cavs, 96-82, in front of a sold-out crowd in Columbus. An audience accustomed to watching college basketball got a taste of the professional product and more.
After Boston’s Rajon Rondo misfired on a jump shot at the second quarter buzzer, a scuffle broke out between the teams near the Celtics’ bench.
The fracas centered around Cavs guard Mo Williams and Celtics forward Shelden Williams, who exchanged unpleasantries as the teams gathered. Mo Williams also swung an elbow at the Celtics reserve forward.
Both players were assessed a technical foul as the referees broke up the melee and the teams exited to the locker room.
The Celtics gave the Cavs their best punch as well. Their balanced attack, even without starters Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, proved too much for a Cavs squad still missing guard Delonte West.
Five players scored in double figures for Boston, as backup point guard Eddie House paced the Celtics with a game-high 21 points off the bench.
“Defensively, we have to be more physical,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “The amount of direct line drives they had to the rim tonight, whether in the post or out on the perimeter, to me, was horrific.”
Just prior to the game, reigning MVP LeBron James was honored with a replica silver Ohio State jersey bearing his number 23.
“It’s special when people recognize what you’ve done,” he said. “I just try to give back and use my influence the best way I can. It’s always great to be back here for that team and for this university to honor me, that was awesome.”
James wowed the crowd with several dazzling dunks during pregame warm-ups, then scored a team-high 18 points in 29 minutes.
The newest addition to Cleveland’s arsenal, 7-foot 1-inch behemoth Shaquille O’Neal, chipped in 16 points as well, including a stretch of eight points in three minutes in the second quarter, when the Cavs trimmed an 11-point deficit to three.
James punctuated the run with a reverse dunk off of a daring pass from his newest, and largest, frontcourt mate.
“He’s a dominant player,” James said of O’Neal. “If a team’s going to play him one on one, he can take advantage of it.”
Boston led the contest throughout, holding an advantage as large as 21 points. The Celtics shot 50 percent against a sluggish Cavalier defense, and assisted on 26 of their 36 field goals.
Marquis Daniels, an offseason addition through free agency, chipped in 17 points while starting in place of the resting Allen.
The fans got a taste of O’Neal’s patented tumble into the stands, after he chased a loose ball in the second quarter and trampled over a defenseless cameramen.
The Cavs and Celtics now turn their attention to the regular season after Cleveland finished 4-4 and Boston 6-2 in exhibition play.
“I am so excited,” James said. “The preseason is so long and dreadful. … I’m just ready to get the season started now.”
Despite the lackluster play in the loss, O’Neal expects a different team come Tuesday.
“Preseason games, it’s really hard to get up for games like this,” he said. “Next week there will be no excuses. We’ll be fine. We’ll be ready.”
The teams meet again on Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland at 7:30 p.m.