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Home rule defining this rivalry

BOSTON -- With all eyes on how the Celtics might fare without Kevin Garnett, it was a missing power forward on the other side who might have proved more indispensable, at least on this night.

With Cavs forward Ben Wallace sidelined by a broken leg, Boston overwhelmed Cleveland with 58 points in the paint -- including 20 from reserve Leon Powe -- as the Celtics won 105-94 to stay in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. It was the 15th straight time the home team won when these two sides played, and Boston's overwhelming physicality was the deciding factor.

"Big Baby [Davis] and Leon Powe did an unbelievable job and controlled the game," LeBron James said. "You give up that many paint points, nine times out of ten you're going to lose the ballgame."

On a day when the Celtics learned Garnett will be out at least another week, it couldn't have been more important. Boston could have fallen three behind Cleveland in the loss column, virtually eliminating any chance at getting the home-court advantage, which has proved so vital in meetings between these two teams. Instead, the Celtics trail by just one loss and are virtually guaranteed to have the tiebreaker advantage thanks to Friday's head-to-head win and a superior conference record.

The Celtics attacked inside from the get-go -- with Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis taking four of their first five shots -- and never let up. Perkins, Davis and Powe combined for 40 points on 19-of-29 shooting. Without Wallace to serve as enforcer on the interior, all three players found favorable physical matchups, including a few against heralded newcomer Joe Smith.

"Our bigs were physical," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Mikki [Moore] and Leon and Baby and Perk were phenomenal all night. And that's what we needed."

"At times, they Â… just lined it up and brought it on us," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "We were trying to be aggressive against [Paul] Pierce and [Ray] Allen, and we did not do a good job on the backside when that happened."

Even when Boston's physical play went too far -- like when Davis was ejected for a flagrant foul on Anderson Varejao early in the third quarter -- it worked out OK. Davis' ouster proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Powe came in and raised Boston's interior domination to another level. Truth be told, Powe has been the more effective player all season, and it's been something of a mystery that Davis, not Powe, has been the one to see more court time in Garnett's absence.

Powe checked in with Cleveland trailing 55-48, but the Cavs were within three by the time Boston got the ball back thanks to the flagrant-foul shots and a 3-pointer on the subsequent trip by James; in fact, they briefly came back to tie the game at 57 two trips later.

But three Powe layups and back-to-back 3-pointers by Paul Pierce pushed Boston's lead back into double digits, and the Cavs never seriously threatened from that point forward.

"We just felt every time Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce] come off a pick, they're going to try to take it away from you," Rivers said. "And we felt the only way we could at least think about making them stop it is to get inside. If they're going to bring their bigs away from the basket, one big had to be open underneath. But it takes passes."

Rivers got the passes he needed and then some: 31 of the Celtics' 45 buckets were assisted, with Rajon Rondo and Pierce combining for 19. In contrast, the Cavs had 17 as a team, as their offense frequently bogged down in one-on-one forays by James or Mo Williams (26 points).

While Boston's physicality was the dominant theme, a nearly as important one was Pierce getting the best of James in their head-to-head matchup. The early involvement of Boston's bigs softened things up for Pierce in the second half, as he finished with 29 points, while Boston's defense walled James out of the paint and limited him to 21 on 5-of-15 shooting.

"We wanted to make him play out in a box," Rivers said. "When he's making [outside] shots, there's not a lot you can do. But what we didn't want him to [do] is get to the rim."

Brown said he'd have to look at the tape to determine whether his sets or Boston's defense was the major problem.

"We did not do a good job moving bodies and moving the basketball," Brown said. "We'd been pretty good at that of late, but we did not do a good job tonight."

As far as what Friday's result portends for the future, I can't honestly say too much. It's hard to see this game as a harbinger of what's to come in the playoffs when Garnett and Wallace didn't play and both sides were trying to incorporate newly signed players into their rotations.

Its importance, however, was underlined by the final result. The home team always wins when these two teams play, so home-court advantage for a playoff series would appear to be indispensable. And thanks to their outmuscling Cleveland tonight, Boston is still alive in the race to obtain it.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.