CLEVELAND - Shaquille O'Neal has learned the ropes in his 17 NBA seasons. There's one lesson that has endured since he was a raw rookie.
“You can’t win a championship in the first game,” he said.
Boston’s “Big Three” — plus Rasheed Wallace — spoiled Cleveland’s overhyped season opener Tuesday night with a 95-89 win over the new-look Cavaliers, who might have LeBron James and Shaq but appear to be a long way from true title contenders at this point.
Paul Pierce scored 23 points, Ray Allen 16 and Kevin Garnett 13 as the Celtics, overlooked by some this preseason, ended an 11-game losing streak in Cleveland and snapped a 16-game skid by visiting teams in games between the Celtics and Cavaliers.
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“It was a good day one,” Pierce said. “Psychologically, you want to go into a team’s building and win, especially in a place where we haven’t won in a few years. It’s great to come here and get a win. We know when we come here next time that we can do it again.”
Pierce made two crucial jumpers and two free throws in the final 63 seconds to pace the Celtics, whose drive to a second consecutive title was derailed when Garnett injured his knee late last season. Wallace, added as a free agent during the offseason, had 12 points.
James scored 38 points and O’Neal added 10 — just two after halftime — and 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who won their first 23 home games last season but are already 0-1 on their floor.
Cleveland’s offense never found a rhythm as the Cavs tried to figure out how to best use the 7-foot-1, 325-pound O’Neal.
“We’d like to start off 1-0, but there are 100 games left,” said O’Neal, who was just 1-for-5 from the floor in the second half and missed his only two free throws. “We’ll be fine. I’ve been on teams that started 0-1, 0-5, 5-0, 10-0. Nothing matters unless you win the whole thing.”
Pierce had 11 rebounds, Garnett 10 and Rajon Rondo added 10 assists for Boston, whose reserves outscored Cleveland’s, 26-10.
“I liked what happened tonight because everyone contributed,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
“It was as much of a team win as you can get.”