CHICAGO, April 27 – The Cleveland Cavaliers swept into the second round of the National Basketball Association playoffs on Sunday while reigning champions Boston remained locked in a dogfight with the Chicago Bulls.At a Detroit arena packed with Cleveland fans, the Cavaliers beat the Pistons 99-78 to close out their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series in four straight games.
LeBron James had 36 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists to lead the Cavaliers, who will now enjoy at least a week off as they await the winner of the series between Miami and Atlanta.
"This is a step for us in our process, a step for us in our journey," said Cavs coach Mike Brown. "We have to continue to respect it like we have so far."
In Chicago, Derrick Rose scored 23 points while Ben Gordon and John Salmons sank clutch late baskets to spark Chicago past Boston 121-118 in a double over-time thriller that evened their series at two games apiece.
Later Sunday, the surprising Philadelphia 76ers looked to extend their 2-1 lead over Orlando when they hosted the Magic in game four of their series.
In Detroit, James set the tone early, making his first four attempts including a flashy dunk. The Cavaliers put the game out of reach with a 16-6 scoring run midway through the third quarter.
Mo Williams scored a career playoff-high 24 for the Cavaliers and Brown said it was that kind of support for James that allowed Cleveland to sweep.
"We had everyone step up and contribute in one way or another," said Brown, the NBA Coach of the Year. "LeBron is LeBron. That’s two games that he almost had a triple-double for us. He does more than score for us. He is so effective in so many areas."
While Cleveland’s progress into the second round seemed all but pre-ordained, the Celtics and Bulls have provided plenty of drama.
"Everybody I’m talking to is saying this is the most exciting series that they’re watching right now," said Gordon, who had 22 points for Chicago.
Salmons added 20 – his 9-for-9 effort from the free throw line including four in the final half-minute to go with his block of Paul Pierce’s potential game-tying 3-pointer.
Pierce led the Celtics with 29 points while Ray Allen, who sank a dramatic 3-pointer late in regulation to force the first over-time, added 28 while Rajon Rondo contributed 25 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for his second triple-double of the series.
For the third time in four contests, the game went down to the final possession.
Gordon sank a dramatic 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds remaining in the first over-time to pull the Bulls level at 110-110. When Rondo missed a pull-up jumper at the buzzer, the game went into a second extra five-minute period.
Rose scored one basket and assisted Salmons on another to give Chicago a 114-110 lead. Glen Davis answered for Boston but Joakim Noah followed with a slam dunk and a free throw to boost the Bulls back on top 117-112.
Pierce responded with a 3-point play to trim Chicago’s edge to 117-115 with 27.3 seconds remaining, but Salmons added two free throws to restore the Bulls’ four-point bulge.
Pierce followed by sinking a tension-packed 3-pointer to lift the Celtics within 119-118 with 19.2 seconds to play.
But Salmons added his last two free throws to give Chicago the final margin then deflected an attempted game-tying 3-pointer from Pierce in the dying seconds.
"We’ve been here before," Allen said. "That’s why it bothered me so much about this one, because we had opportunities. We were right there."
The Celtics host game five on Tuesday.
"It’s 2-2 and we’re in a fight," Rondo said. "Give them a lot of credit. They stuck with it. They fought back. They executed down the stretch very well and we didn’t."
Rose again had trouble hanging onto the ball. He committed seven turnovers for the second straight game, but atoned with some big shots down the stretch.
So did Gordon, despite straining a hamstring in the second quarter, and injury that has him scheduled for an MRI exam on Monday.