CLEVELAND – A nuisance as an NBA player, Danny Ainge is still being a pest as a general manager.

Boston’s GM was spotted in TV replays throwing a white towel in the air to distract Cleveland forward J.J. Hickson at the free-throw line in the third quarter of Game 2 on Monday night.

Ainge, sitting in the first seat to the right of Cleveland’s basket, is seen reaching behind the stanchion to grab one of the ball boy’s towels as Hickson prepares to shoot. Ainge then tosses the towel into the air on Hickson’s second attempt with 1:53 left.

At the time the Celtics were leading 80-57 on their way to winning 104-86 and evening the Eastern Conference semifinal at one game apiece. Hickson made his second free throw.

An NBA spokesman said the league is aware of Ainge’s actions and “the situation is under review.”

Ainge stood on Hickson’s first foul shot but made only slight movements with his upper body. He then sat down and clapped after Hickson missed.

Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown said he saw Ainge’s towel toss.

“That was interesting to see that happen during the flow of the game from Danny Ainge,” Brown said. “If it’s within the rules, hey, at this time, you do whatever you can to win. As long as it’s within the rules.”

Ainge didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment. A Celtics spokesman said the team had no comment.

Ainge was a fiery player during his 15-year pro career. He played for Boston, Sacramento, Portland and Phoenix before retiring in 1995.

Meanwhile, LeBron James and his scrutinized right elbow remained out of sight Tuesday, deepening the mystery about his injury.

Hours after being embarrassed at home in Game 2, the Cavaliers were summoned to their practice facility by Brown to watch tape of the setback.

Although Game 3 isn’t until Friday, Brown wanted to dissect and digest what went wrong.

“I had a lot to say to the guys about our performance,” said Brown, who was critical of his own effort.

“I thought we need to develop a sense of urgency in this series and throughout our run. I thought why not have (Monday) night be a start.”

After the film session broke up, James, who will have a third MRI in less than 10 days on his elbow later this week, wasn’t seen when the courts were opened to the media. The team said James was at the facility receiving treatment on his elbow.

On Monday night, it appeared James was hurting.

He scored 24 points but didn’t attack the basket with his typical aggression until the fourth quarter, when the game was essentially out of reach. For the first three quarters he was unusually passive. He played lethargically, and stood and watched his teammates.

James has been diagnosed with a sprained elbow and bone bruise, an injury he said has bothered him for more than a month. In recent days he’s insisted it’s not an issue and he won’t use it as an excuse. But with James at less than 100 percent, the Cavs, who led the league in wins, may no longer be favored to win their first title.

Brown said he hasn’t asked James about the injury.

“I have complete faith and trust in the players and our medical staff, and at any time if anyone is hurting, I’m in the loop,” he said.

Forward Anderson Varejao, who sat out the fourth quarter with back spasms, is day-to-day. The Cavs said an MRI and X-rays showed no structural damage.

James flexed his elbow several times in Game 2, grabbing it and rubbing his arm during the third quarter when Boston was outscoring Cleveland, 31-12.

Cavs guard Mo Williams said James hasn’t complained about the injury, and he would never play if it jeopardized the team.

“He would tell me if he was really hurting to a point where he couldn’t play,” Williams said. “He’s fine. He doesn’t want to sit and bark about an injury. He doesn’t want to hear about it. He doesn’t make excuses. He does what he has to do to get ready to play, and he’s going to play.”

The severity of James’ injury became known last week in Game 5 against Chicago, when he shot a free throw with his left hand in the closing seconds. He said afterward he had undergone an MRI on April 26, and the team said he had another round of tests April 28 that revealed no structural damage.

A third MRI is planned before the team travels to Boston.

The Cavaliers also have to figure out a better way to contain Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, who followed up his 27-point performance in Game 1 with 19 assists in Game 2.

And they need better production from Shaquille O’Neal. He scored nine points on 4-of-10 shooting in Game 2 and without posing an inside threat, the Celtics can shift their defense and focus on James.

“We’re going to keep going to the big fella because he’s going to have to score for us down there to loosen it up for the rest of our guys,” Brown said.

During his biting postgame comments Monday night, Brown singled out Williams, saying the point guard “has got to step up” after shooting 1 of 9.

“He’s an All-Star and we need him to make solid plays,” Brown said. “He doesn’t have to hit eight shots in a row like he did in Game 1, but he’s got to be solid defensively and a threat offensively. If you asked him how he played, I think he would say the same.”


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