Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron James dropped 32 points and 12 rebounds on the Celtics on Friday to force a Game 7.
Cleveland 74, Boston 69
CLEVELAND, May 16 (AP) -- The Boston Celtics are going home for another Game 7.
They handled the Atlanta Hawks.
LeBron James may not be as easy.
James scored 32 points - 19 in the second half - and the Cavaliers forced a decisive and fitting finale to this home-sweet-home playoff series with a 74-69 victory Friday night over the Celtics, who have gone from regular-season road kings to postseason road kill.
"It was either win or go home,'' James said. "I'm not ready to go home.''
The Cavs packed for a weekend stay in Beantown - not a few weeks relaxing on Cape Cod. They've got at least one more game left, and in the NBA, it's as big as they ever get.
Game 7. On Sunday. In Boston.
James, whose jump shot has mysteriously been missing in this series, made two key baskets midway through the fourth quarter to slow a Boston comeback, Wally Szczerbiak hit a 3-pointer with 2:10 remaining and Joe Smith dropped two free throws with 14 seconds left as the Cavs moved the series back to the East Coast.
The Cavs are attempting to become the 14th team to overcome an 0-2 deficit and win a series, and to do so, the defending Eastern Conference champions will have to win in Boston, where the Celtics are 7-0 in the postseason and play like a possessed team with title potential.
On the road, they're 0-6 and just ordinary.
Still, the Celtics feel good about going home.
"Mentally we feel like we're a confident team,'' Paul Pierce said. "We've been in Game 7s before, and we feel like this is a game we let slip away. Hopefully, we can go home and take care of business.''
The Celtics are 15-3 in Game 7s at home, but the Cavaliers may have some confidence playing on the parquet after nearly winning Games 1 and 5.
"We can win,'' James said. "We know we can win. We just have to go out there and do it.''
Kevin Garnett scored 25 points, Pierce 16 and Ray Allen just nine on 3-of-8 shooting. The Celtics got just two points from guard Rajon Rondo, who scored 20 in their Game 5 win. Boston's point total was the second lowest in franchise playoff history and the fewest points ever given up by Cleveland in the postseason.
Afterward, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was still fuming over some calls he felt went against his team.
"Tell the refs to do the interview. They were just as important,'' an angry Rivers shouted at a team official as he walked back from the postgame news conference.
James added 12 rebounds, Delonte West had 10 points and Smith came off the bench to add nine, none bigger than his two free throws that closed out the Celtics.
Cleveland's win continued a run of domination by home teams, who improved to 21-1 on their floors in the second round of the playoffs.
Leading by nine at halftime, the Cavs quickly extended the lead to 51-36. But just when it appeared the Celtics were in major trouble, they responded behind Garnett, who scored eight points in a 13-0 spurt that pulled Boston within three. James finally ended Cleveland's offensive lapse with a layup and the Cavs got a tip-in and fling-in from Anderson Varejao for a 59-50 lead entering the fourth.
Garnett's jumper pulled the Celtics within 65-60 before James scored on a drive, and the All-Star hit an off-balance 17-foot jumper to make it 69-60. Eddie House made a 3-pointer for Boston, but Szczerbiak, who missed his first five 3-pointers, finally got one to go down, giving Cleveland a 72-63 lead.
Boston hung around as the Cavs came up empty on several possessions and was still within five when Pierce was whistled for a questionable charge. Allen made two free throws to bring Boston within 72-69, but Smith stepped to the line and as 20,000-plus fans fell deadly silent, made the two biggest free throws of his 13-year career.
When the final horn sounded, James fired the ball to the other end and the Cavs left their home floor hoping they can get another chance to play on it again this season.
The Cavaliers played without injured guard Daniel Gibson, one of their best outside shooters who helped close out the Detroit Pistons in last year's conference finals. Gibson separated his left shoulder in Game 5.
But unlike in that loss, when they let the Celtics cut a 14-point deficit to three in the final few minutes before halftime, the Cavaliers closed the second period with a 17-2 flurry to open a 42-33 lead.
The Celtics set up a final shot in the closing seconds, but West made a steal, dribbled quickly into the frontcourt and sank a running 3-pointer at the horn, giving the Cavs their nine-point lead and huge momentum.
As is his custom before big games, James arrived three hours before the opening tip to get in some extra shooting in the arena's fourth-floor practice gym.
James was confident the Cavaliers would be able to force a Game 7.
"I don't feel desperate at all,'' he said.
After speaking with reporters for a few minutes, James relaxed at his locker and unlaced three pairs of sneakers as he bobbed his head and rapped along with hip hop blaring through his headphones. However, he couldn't find his rhythm on the floor early on.
James went 1-for-6 in the first quarter before he began driving to the basket, something Cavs fans wish he did more often. He drew fouls and scored nine of his 13 first-half points from the foul line.
Unable to explain the Celtics' problems away from home, Rivers said he didn't do anything radical to end Boston's road slide.
"We didn't hold a seance,'' he said.
The Celtics will now conjure up some of the ghosts from their glorious past as they prepare for their second Game 7 in these playoffs.
"Fortunately, we don't come back to Cleveland,'' James Posey said. "All we have to do it go home and win.''
Notes: James (328) passed Mark Price (327) for the most assists in Cavs' playoff history. ... James will play on his second U.S. Olympic team this summer in Beijing. In preparation, the superstar said he has become better informed about China's human rights issues so he can address them when asked. "Maybe I can shine some light on the situation and help people,'' he said. "I'm not going on a podium or nothing like that.'' ... Gibson said he injured his shoulder when he got his arm bent back reaching for a loose ball in Game 5. He said learning he couldn't play in the rest of the series was "heartbreaking. If I could play with one hand, I would.''