Posted May 12 2010 10:22AM
CLEVELAND -- Yes, LeBron James had an awful performance Tuesday night in one of the most critical games of his career.
Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers melted down in a 32-point loss on their home floor.
Yes, there is real reason to worry in Cleveland today.
But James and the Cavs did not beat themselves in Game 5 of the conference semifinals. The Boston Celtics, who stumbled into the postseason but now have a 3-2 series edge on the team that had the best record in the league in the regular season, earned this win and the opportunity to close out the series at home on Thursday.
The Cavs' theme for these playoffs has been "All Together." The phrase is printed on signs in store windows around the city, on banners on the outside of Quicken Loans Arena, and on the towels they place on the arena seats before each game.
The team that is playing "all together" in this series, though, is not the Cavs. Game 5 was the latest example of how the good the Celtics can be when they play as a unit.
There was, for example, no relying on Rajon Rondo on this night, as the Cavs did in Game 4. Rondo had another strong game Tuesday, but he was doing more orchestrating than devastating. And in the key stretch of the game, a 16-0 Boston run in the second quarter that gave the Celtics the lead for good, Rondo was on the bench.
Before the game, Ray Allen was asked about momentum, and whether or not the Celtics could build upon their Game 4 win on Sunday afternoon.
"I believe in momentum in the regular season," Allen said. "[In the playoffs] you have to create whatever momentum from one game to the next. You can't just think the last game gets you the win the next game. It gets you the loss, really, for most teams."
With the Cavs up 23-20 after the first quarter, Allen looked prophetic. There was no carryover from Sunday's Game 4, especially when you looked at Rondo's numbers (no points, no assists and just one rebound). The Celtics were struggling offensively. They had scored on just one of their final eight possessions and turned the ball over three times in that stretch.
But Doc Rivers and his staff were able to diagnose the problem.
"Everybody wanted to win the game," Rivers said afterward. "I just thought we came out, in the first five minutes with each guy individually trying to win on his own. We're not good that way."
In an early timeout, Rivers talked and his players listened. And in essence, Game 5 was a microcosm of the entire season in Boston. When they really needed to, the Celtics were able to refocus, put their struggles behind them and come together.
"After that timeout, we just slowed down and we started making plays," Allen said. "Before you know it, we were getting easier looks. We were getting layups. We were going to the free-throw line.
"It definitely affected us long-term, because we had great offense throughout the game."
The Celtics moved the ball from side to side and ran multiple pick-and-rolls. The Celtics, clicking offensively as well as they have all season, scored 100 points in the final 36 minutes, turning the game into a laugher.
The same chemistry and unity Boston had offensively was just as visible on defense. The Celtics shut off the lane, keeping James away from the basket. And when he kicked the ball out to his teammates, Boston was quick to recover and challenge shots on the perimeter.
Now, the Cavs are the ones searching for answers. Though they have more talent and depth than the Celtics, they showed Tuesday an alarming inablity to find a solution when James is stymied. If James isn't putting up huge numbers, Cleveland simply doesn't have the history together to know what else will work.
In the other locker room, the history is apparent. With a championship in hand, the Celtics know exactly what works for them. Rivers calls it "the formula."
"We've just got to be a team," Rivers said. "We're good when we're a team."
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