Boston wins the Eastern semifinal 4-2, and afterward
Cleveland loses, and the loss is implosive. Coach
"The coaching staff gave them a great game plan,'' said James of Celtics coach
This was a terrific series, and it was based entirely on absolutes. The underdog fourth-seeded Celtics came into the series wondering if this was their last chance at contention between
As No. 1 seed of the playoffs with the two-time MVP, the Cavs should have been playing from a position of strength. But insecurities were their ruin -- resulting in
To blame this series defeat on James is wrong in one sense. In spite of an injured elbow that clearly limited his shooting (he attempted fewer three-pointers than normal and made 26.9 percent -- a rate worse than any season, including his rookie year) he nonetheless averaged 26.8 points and shot 44.7 percent while contributing 9.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.3 blocks and, yes, 4.5 turnovers. Those numbers could have been enough to drive the league's best team -- had James been provided support from the likes of sixth man
Varejao was in the middle of two key second-half sequences that would bury the Cavs. His traveling turnover in the third quarter led to a Pierce three-pointer and then Varejao continued to complain hopelessly that he had been fouled, leaving his teammates to go 4-on-5 as Williams bricked a three-pointer that Garnett converted into a post-up jumper for a 67-58 Celtics advantage. In the fourth Varejao missed one layup, had another blocked by
Should the Cavs lose James to free agency this summer, they may look back and wonder if the speculation was self-fulfilling. The pressures to win a championship for Cleveland and keep LeBron to themselves drove the Cavaliers to trade for
A big difference between these two franchises was the faith that bonded Rivers to his players and divided Brown from his. All season, Rivers had followed a plan to rest his elders when needed and then force-feed them minutes over the second half of the season, essentially sacrificing precious games in the standings as if they were preseason exhibitions. At times, he appeared to be the only man in Boston who was openly convinced the deteriorating Celtics could win another championship, and the faith he showed in his players was compelling and unifying. At 34, Ray Allen played the best defense of his career while averaging 15.7 points over the series. At 33, Garnett closed out Game 6 with 22 points, 12 rebounds and three assists while delivering from the post more confidently and routinely than during the postseason run to the '08 championship. Likewise, Pierce at 32, recovered from his injuries to hassle James and contributed a trio of crucial three-pointers in the decisive game. Together they believed what everyone else had viewed to be impossible ... and on top of that they added
The Cavs viewed Brown, fairly or not, as someone who had been outcoached by
Celtics fans cleverly raised up Cleveland's worst fears by serenading James with chants of "New York Knicks, New York Knicks,'' as he shot his free throws Thursday. The game and its potentially devastating outcome had grown inseparable.
Does this sound like a break-up speech? "I love the city of Cleveland, of course, the city, the fans,'' said James, who was booed throughout his Game 5 loss, and will be booed even more loudly if he returns next season wearing a different uniform. "It was a disappointing season to say the least, but at the same time we had a great time together."
The Cavs played all-out twice in this series, winning Game 3 to reclaim home-court advantage and then attacking frenetically in vain to extend the season. Why didn't they work so hard throughout the playoffs? The answer is that they were never the real thing, because hard work defines championship teams. It defines the Celtics now, and that is why they will be in Orlando Sunday while James vacations and all around him Cleveland shudders.