Final Dime: Celtics 104, Cavaliers 86

1. Before Monday night’s Game 2 matchup, LeBron James was presented with his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers – other than a desperate fourth quarter run – that’s as good as things would get in Cleveland.

For the second straight game, the Wine and Gold came out with very little fire. But unlike Saturday’s Game 1 win, they never really found it – falling behind by 23 points and running out of gas after a late rally came up short. When it was all said and done, the Celtics had stolen homecourt advantage from Cleveland – taking the 104-86 win on Monday night at The Q.

Anderson Varejao’s layup late in the first quarter put the Cavaliers up, 17-16. That would be their last lead, with the Wine and Gold netting just 12 points – (while allowing 31) – in the pivotal third quarter.

The Cavaliers started the fourth down by 23 and faced that deficit until the 8:53 mark when, ignited by J.J. Hickson, they went on a 13-0 run to cut Boston’s lead to just 10 – 93-83.

But a bucket by Rajon Rondo took the steam out of Cleveland and Kevin Garnett scored the last five points of the night to put the Celtics win on ice and send the series back to Boston tied at one game apiece.

“They kicked our behind from the beginning,” lamented a visibly upset Coach Mike Brown. “They got every 50/50 ball, they converted every offensive rebound into points and we did not fight back until late. We have to decide if we are going to take the fight to them and take these games. Nothing is going to be given to us at all.”

LeBron James led both clubs with 24 points, half of which he netted during Cleveland’s fourth-quarter rally. The two-time MVP was 7-for-15 from the floor and 10-of-15 from the stripe. James added seven boards, four assists, three steals and a pair of blocked shots, but only sporadically looked like the player who accepted the hardware before Monday’s matchup.

“I know we didn’t play well,” said James. “The third quarter was one of the worst quarters we have had this year, offensively and defensively. When you look at it at the end of the day, it’s a series that is tied one to one with two really good teams – and we’re looking forward to Game 3.”

The most active player on the court throughout the Game 2 blowout was Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who tallied 12 assists in the first half and barely let up for the remainder of the night. Boston’s lithe playmaker finished the night with 19 helpers, dictating the tempo for all of his 45 minutes of floor time.

Antawn Jamison followed up with a quiet 16 points and six boards, going 6-for-11 from the floor. Jamison was the only other Cleveland starter in double figures. Boston, conversely, got double-digit production from all five starters, plus 17 from Rasheed Wallace off the bench.

The most active Cavalier outside of LeBron was Hickson, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half – going 4-for-6 from the floor and 5-of-7 from the line.

The Cavaliers shot just 40 percent as a team; Boston, 51. Cleveland was dominated on the boards, 43-32, and on second-chance points, 21-10.

Luckily, the Wine and Gold have three days to remedy what ailed them in Game 2 – (and two-thirds of Game 1) – before taking on the Celtics in Beantown on Friday night.

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2. Monday’s loss was the most one-sided playoff defeat for Cleveland since Boston throttled them by 16 – 89-73 – on May 8, 2008. The 18-point deficit was the Cavaliers’ largest ever at home.

3. Rajon Rondo set a Cavaliers’ opponent record with his 19 assists, breaking the Pacers’ Mark Jackson’s mark of 17 – set in the 1998 postseason, Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ rookie season.

4. J.J. Hickson set a postseason career high with his 13-point effort in 19 minutes on Monday night. The high-flying sophomore has notched double-figures in three of Cleveland’s last four playoff games.

5. Cleveland came into Monday, shooting .397 from behind the arc – second in the NBA – while also defending the arc the second-best at .286. In Game 2, the Celtics went .474 (9-19) from long-distance. The Cavaliers shot just .190 – 4-for-21.

6. Anderson Varejao nabbed a pair of steals on Monday night, tying him with Mark Price for second in postseason franchise history with 64. Varejao had eight points, seven boards and a flagrant foul against Ray Allen before leaving the game in the third quarter with back spasms.

7. Antawn Jamison – averaging 17.1 ppg for the Cavaliers this postseason – has notched double-figures in six of the Wine and Gold’s seven playoff games.

8. Before Monday’s game, LeBron James accepted his Most Valuable Player award in front of fans at The Q – one day after being presented with the trophy at the J.A.R. in Akron. In a smaller, though no less inspiring presentation, the Wheelchair Cavaliers were honored at halftime for winning the National Championship in Denver. The players were given rings and their banner will hang at The Q’s practice court, where the squad practices.

9. Of course, NBA Commissioner David Stern was on hand to present LeBron with the award, and he took some time to speak to reporters before Monday’s game.

“I think I just did this last year,” quipped Stern. “Presenting a talented, great player his MVP trophy. You guys all know the statistics. And it’s pretty exciting to see what he’s done for this team. He plays with an intensity and a passion. He’s a joy to behold and he makes it look so easy.”

10. Despite dropping Monday’s Game 1 – their first home loss of the 2010 Playoffs, Cleveland has still won 13 of their last 15 contests at The Q since 2006.