BOSTON • Not long before the Celtics raised Paul Pierce's No. 34 to the rafters on Sunday, one of Pierce's long-time rivals - LeBron James - was in the building for a National Basketball Association (NBA) clash between Boston and Cleveland.
Pierce and James had many memorable play-off battles, including Pierce going on to win the NBA Finals after scoring 41 points in Game Seven of the 2008 Eastern Conference semi-finals to eliminate the Cavaliers despite 45 points from James. But James had the last laugh this time.
He stole the 40-year-old's spotlight with 24 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds to power the Cavaliers to a 121-99 statement victory against former Cavs team-mate Kyrie Irving and the Celtics in a battle of the Eastern Conference heavyweights at TD Garden.
Cleveland were playing their first game with a full squad after making a series of deadline-day trades on Thursday to retool their roster, with George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr all making their debuts.
Clarkson finished with 17 points while Hood and J.R. Smith each added 15. Hill had 12 and Nance chipped in five to help the Cavs (33-22) to a third straight win.
"We got some players that are pretty smart and they picked it up like they had been here all year," said James.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue was also pleased with the performance, saying: "All of our new guys performed and played well, so that's a good sign."
Irving led the Celtics (40-18) with 18 points and five assists.
Marcus Morris was the only other Boston player in double figures with 17.
Following the game, the Celtics held a ceremony to retire Pierce's number.
The 10-time NBA All-Star, who retired last season, played 15 seasons in Boston, winning the one Finals series and playing in another in 2010.
Cleveland will cap a three-game road trip today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) in Oklahoma City.
Boston, who have lost three of their last four, will try to regroup on tomorrow night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE