And LeBron James -- in one of the rarest performances of his staggeringly great career -- stunk up the joint.
It wasn't just that he missed shots. He did miss shots -- 11 out of 14, in fact (and all four of his three-pointers). It wasn't just that he was a non-factor on defense -- one steal, no blocks and so little energy. It wasn't just that he seemed to play in pain -- that sprained elbow clearly affects him. It wasn't just that he faded into the background as the Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 70-44 in the second half -- SEVENTY TO FORTY-FOUR! -- and those hyped Cleveland fans booed half-heartedly and then began to file out early rather than put themselves through the unhappy finish and, as the national media would too gleefully report (in my opinion), perhaps LeBron's farewell walk.
"I spoil people with my play," LeBron said after the game in the monotone voice that has become all too familiar after losses. He's right. LeBron James has been so good, so other-world good, that you expect genius whenever he steps on the floor. You expect another
But this isn't about LeBron being unable to muster genius. It wasn't just the way he played -- Gods have bad games too. No, it was
The Cleveland sports saga has been written so many times, but one thing struck me Tuesday night: All of the Cleveland heartbreaks of years past came from similar places. What I mean by that is, well, yes, Red Right 88 hurt -- hurt more than any other moment I've had as a sports fan. Red Right 88, you probably know, was the name of the play when
Yes, The Drive hurt and The Fumble hurt -- those were the two heartbreaking losses for Cleveland against Denver in the AFC Championship Games.
The point? Cleveland has felt a ton of pain in this never-ending Heartbreak Era, but it has not really had a historic underachiever. To the contrary, the heartbreaks have almost always been set up by
That is, until now. This Cavaliers team is a definitive great team. It has the best player in the game -- one of the best players of all time -- and he's in his prime. It has an aging version of one of the most dominant players in NBA history (
And now, they are on the brink of defeat -- not in the Finals, not even in the Eastern Conference finals, but right now against Boston. The series is not over, of course. If Cleveland beats Boston on Thursday night, then suddenly it all shifts back to Cleveland for Game 7 on Sunday. Win that game, and Tuesday's embarrassment just disappears into forgotten sports history. And you would expect a furious effort from the Cavaliers on Thursday. You would expect the energy to be so intense they would be glowing. You would expect LeBron James to take his game up to the stars, to the Magic System near Bird's Belt in the Jordan Galaxy.
You would expect real greatness from this team. As coach
Then again, we learned something about the Cavaliers on Tuesday. And after that game, there's really no telling what to expect.