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Cavs witness end of season as Celtics reach East finals

By Couper Moorhead, for
Posted Friday May 14, 2010 12:59AM

BOSTON ( exclusive) -- Few people expected the Boston Celtics to do this. What mattered was, they expected to all along.

"I saw us in training camp," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "We looked better in training camp than we did two years ago. And then we fell apart. But you could see that everyone wanted to get back."

Was it always possible that they could knock off the team with the best record and the best player in the league? Absolutely. But the last three and a half months of the season, spent treading water and blowing double-digit leads, offered no evidence that it was probable.

It happened, though, and in offing the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games, 94-85, the Celtics don't deserve to be an aside in this series any longer. With the biggest win in Boston since Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, the Celtics were fantastic.

"They played an unbelievable series," LeBron James said.

"The regular season is a lot different than the postseason and we knew they were going to be a different team and we hoped that we were," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "Boston stepped up."

From Game 1, the Celtics abused any defender thrown at Kevin Garnett, and to Garnett's credit, he parked himself on the block and kept pounding away. Brown's final attempt at an adjustment was to put Shaquille O'Neal on Garnett, hypothetically in an attempt to create a mismatch on the other end.

"When they put Shaq on me, my thought process didn't change at all," Garnett said.

Twenty-two points later for Garnett and it was clear that Brown's move -- not to mention both inconsistent and questionable rotations -- was a dud.

"It was a tough matchup for us," Brown said of Garnett. "If he was not scoring, the attention that we had to pay to him allowed them to get some long rebounds or some easy layups. He did a heck of a job throughout the series."

Though the Celtics were in control throughout the second half, the Cavs gave Boston a couple of scares: the first due to consecutive pull-up threes from James, the second when Cleveland closed the lead to eight with three minutes to play. But the swing possession came when James drove to the hoop and missed a shot off the glass, creating contact but drawing no foul and giving Rajon Rondo the opportunity to get out in transition.

Rondo got the line, putting Cleveland multiple possessions away.

"Teams are going to make runs, we understand that," Garnett said. "You could start to see [James] grabbing momentum. Throughout this whole series, when we went through some tough times, we stayed together, played though it."

Unlike in his much-criticized Game 5, James also played through it. He just didn't have any help, apparent both in Boston's constant trapping off pick-and-rolls and on the fast-break, which might be what sealed Cleveland's fate.

Early on, the Cavaliers looked like the better team in that they were controlling the paint and getting better looks. But every miss became an opportunity for Rondo to push the ball, and Boston's 11 fast-break points in the first half nullified the effectiveness of Cleveland's offense.

It was clear that if James couldn't offer a transcendent performance, the Cavaliers couldn't match Boston. He didn't.

From first possession, you could tell this was a different LeBron James than the one that drifted into obscurity in Game 5. A baseline cut led to a power dunk, then another shot the next time down the floor followed by subsequent forays into the paint. Nine turnovers, and 24 for his team, was part of Cleveland's undoing, but his fingerprints were all over this game, and without his 27 and especially his 19 rebounds, the Cavaliers were a group without direction.

The immediate question now is where James ends up as a free agent this summer? Nobody knows the truth, and for now, he's not offering any answers.

"It's all about winning for me," James said. "I think the Cavs are committed to doing that, but at the same time I've given myself options."

But even though James' decision will grab all the attention, it's not right to finish with the team, and player, that fell short. For now, all relevance goes to the victors.

In the end, after Garnett declared this a must-win following Game 5, the Celtics put up on all their flip-switching, wait-for-the-playoffs talk. And perhaps what explains the result of this series most clearly is that Boston, moving on to face the Orlando Magic, still isn't satisfied.

"I'm really not that proud of this, truthfully," Pierce said. "Because our goal is to win a championship. We can be excited for one night, winning a game, winning a season, but that's not going to make our season.

"We get excited when we put that banner up."

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