The AP reports: Paul Pierce hit a shot. Then LeBron James answered. Pierce hit another and so did James. It was like that all game long, two of the NBA’s best trying to carry their teams to the next round. Pierce and the Boston Celtics succeeded, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-92 on Sunday… Pierce scored 41 points, James had 45 and Boston remained unbeaten in the playoffs at home, where the first two games against the Pistons will be played Tuesday and Thursday night… Pierce hit 13 of 23 shots and James went 14-for-29… The Celtics never trailed Sunday but they never were safe until the final seconds. Pierce hit two free throws with 7.9 seconds left for the final points, then James missed a 3-pointer on the last shot of the game with 4.4 seconds to go… Sasha Pavlovic’s 3-pointer made it 95-92 with 8.6 seconds left and the Cavaliers immediately fouled Pierce. His first shot hit the rim, hung in the air, then fell through as the crowd roared. Pierce said team patriarch Red Auerbach, who died in October 2006 at age 89, had something to do with that. Stat Notes: The Celtics shot 47.8%, the Cavaliers 44.8%. The Celtics took just 12 three-pointers but made 5 (Pierce hit 4), while the Cavs launched 22 threes but hit just 7. Free throws were almost even, though the Celtics hit a few more. Boston won rebounds 39-29 and won assists 39-29.

For the Celtics, Paul Pierce (13-of-23, 4-of-6 threes, 11-of-12 free throws) had 41 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists (but 4 turnovers). Kevin Garnett (just 5-of-13) had 13 points and 13 rebounds. PJ Brown played 20 bench minutes and shot 4-of-4 for 10 points and 6 rebounds. Rajon Rondo was just 4-of-11 for 8 points but was terrific with 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Ray Allen continues to stink, shooting 1-of-6 for 4 points and almost nothing else.

For the Cavs, LeBron James (14-of-29, 3-of-11 threes, 14-of-19 free throws) had 45 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Delonte West (4-of-8) had 15 points and 5 assists, but 6 turnovers. Wally Szczerbiak was junk, shooting 0-of-3 in 15 minutes. Ben Wallace was fairly useless with 3 points, 4 rebounds and a block in almost 30 minutes. Zydrunas Ilgauskas was worn out, shooting 2-of-8 for 8 points, 5 rebounds and little else. Joe Smith was good off the bench with 6 points and 6 rebounds. Anderson Varejao played just 11 minutes and had 5 points and just 2 rebounds. And Sasha Pavlovic in over 35 minutes did little more than take 8 shots to score 7 points with 5 fouls.