Posted May 12 2010 8:12AM
CLEVELAND -- Either the "Legend of LeBron James" is going to add a very special chapter in Games 6 and 7 of Cleveland's Eastern Conference semifinal series against Boston, or the author penning it will be revealed to be Stephen King.
There would seem to be no middle ground, not after the Cavaliers' got staggered by the Celtics 120-88 in Game 5 Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena. Down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, on the brink of elimination as it shifts to TD Garden Thursday, the Cavaliers have no assurance of even playing again in Cleveland this spring, never mind chasing the franchise's first championship across two more postseason rounds.
What that means -- though none of the principals was willing to engage it, not with Game 6 looming so urgently as their focal point -- is that free-agent-to-be James might have been playing his last game before the home fans as a Cavalier. Coach Mike Brown, who doesn't exactly hold the option on his continued service, might have been working for the last time on The Q sideline. The great Shaquille O'Neal project could be 48 minutes from an ignoble end, Cleveland could be pushing into its 47th year without a major sports title, and so on and so forth.
So in addition to being written by King, this tale -- in all its macabre, lurid glory -- would get adapted to the screen by Wes Craven, after a script polish from Quentin Tarantino. With an executive producer credit for John Elway, in a nod to Cleveland's haunting and long-suffering sports past.
"Didn't even think about that," James said of his possible Q closer. "I feel like Game 6 is a huge game for us. ... Me sitting up here, saying it was potentially our last game here for the season, it wouldn't be me, it wouldn't be our team."
Exactly. James wasn't himself and the Cavaliers weren't, either. There were times during the team's worst playoff home loss ever -- a bookend to what the Celtics endured two games earlier on their storied parquet floor -- when the gloom and the pessimism were palpable. When, for instance, James still was in search of his first field goal of the game in the third quarter. Had that trend continued, "The Drive" would have been joined by "The Schneid" among regrettable Cleveland moments.
James finally did get off his, getting a run-out dunk at 6:17 of the period to make it 65-52. But he wasn't very MVP-like at 3-for-14, and his 15 points represented a new low in a series in which the Cavs star has been below average -- his average -- three times now. James had scored 29.5 points in his playoff career prior to Tuesday, 33.8 points in eight previous Game 5s.
While the Chosen One kept trying to find some rhythm, the Big Three just rolled. Boston won on a night when breakthrough point guard Rajon Rondo thrived only in the second half because veterans Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce stirred some echoes from 2008. Allen had six three-pointers, including a pair of backbreakers to start the second half and double what had been the Celtics' six-point lead. Pierce was 9-for-21 but had 21 points and 11 rebounds while impressing folks with his defense [along with Tony Allen] on James.
"I wouldn't say [James] was necessarily frustrated, but I could see that he was trying to throw the onus on himself," Garnett said. "He was very aggressive -- you could see him ducking his head and going to the basket. ... I thought we did a good job of crowding him, contesting his shot and controlling everybody else."
And he did mean everybody. Brown used 10 players while his team still had some hope, including center Zydrunas Ilgauskas for 14 minutes 21 seconds and reserve guard Daniel Gibson for 12:23; those two guys had totaled 11 minutes in the first four games. The Cleveland coach was looking for a spark -- Delonte West continues to play peek-a-boo in the postseason, a troubling inconsistency that seems to have gone viral.
The Cavs' harshest critics would suggest that the second week of May is not the time to be searching for your identity. But James would only cop to the inconsistency. "We know what it takes to win as a team. At the same time, we haven't played great basketball," he said.
Now's the time. Isn't it enough that Cleveland and Boston are carrying the NBA's flag this week while the winners of the three other conference semifinals are sneaking in spa days? Must the Cavaliers' really big questions get asked -- and asked and asked and asked -- so soon?
Not if LeBron adds to the legend, writing a more conventional, Spielberg sort of story. As unrealistic as it might seem to think he could summon games of 35, 45, even 55 points -- and do it twice -- the fact is, he has done unrealistic things on multiple occasions. Certainly, the urgency is there, the degree of difficulty too, facing these veteran Celtics just two years removed from their own championship -- and from a mastery over the Cavs in seven games.
"For me, I've just got to go out there and do what's best," James said. "The fact that I spoil a lot of people with my play -- when you have a bad game here and there, when you have three bad games in a seven-year career -- it's easy to point that out. So you've just got to be better.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to be great, to be the best player on the court. When I'm not, I feel bad for myelf, because I'm not going out and doing the things I know that I can do. But I don't hang my head or make excuses about anything that may be going on. Because that's not the type of player or type of person that I am."
In Cleveland at this hour, they're just wondering what type of Eastern Conference finalist he is. Or, something they might be thinking about sooner rather than later, whose.
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