To state the obvious: These Boston Celtics are not a championship team. It's a huge surprise after their dominance of the regular season, but under the defensive pressure of the playoffs their three stars have lost all feeling for how to play off one another. They are a numb offensive team that doesn't feed off strengths or mismatches, that doesn't develop a go-to scorer during the game and doesn't exhibit poise when mandatory. Over the closing minutes of tight games the Celtics look as if they have no idea where to go with the ball or which of them should take over. This is why no overhauled team has ever won a title in its first year together: It takes years for a championship team to learn to play together and barring some kind of heavenly revelation the No. 1 seed isn't going to achieve that unity this postseason. They still might win this series; but in the bigger picture, the superior Spurs, Pistons, Hornets, Lakers and Jazz have all been together longer and aren't facing the steep postseason learning curve that is exposing these Celtics. "I haven't said that all year, but goldarn it you're right," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers when asked about the team's lack of poise. "We have to play better under stress, there's no doubt about it. I call them 'hero shots' and I thought we took a lot of those, instead of just trusting what we do."
The Celtics have blown a two-game lead and return to Boston for a crucial Game 5 Wednesday against the One-Man Cavs even though That Man has been shooting 25.6 percent (20 of 78). "You think LeBron [James]' struggling?" said Rivers. "He had 21 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds. He probably forced 15 fouls. We don't look at that as LeBron struggling. You only look at field-goal percentage; we don't. we look at the way he's playing his total game and he's making plays."
James (pictured) arrived three hours early for a serious pregame workout -- the first time he had done so since the conference finals last year when he led Cleveland to four straight wins over the Pistons. His jumper remained unreliable -- most of his 13 misses in 20 attempts were from the perimeter -- but the backstory of James' series had no bearing on his dominance of the final 3:13, starting with a startling three from the left side to open up a 79-73 lead. It was 82-75 after three Celtic defenders flew magnetically toward James in the left corner, including Rajon Rondo, who left Daniel Gibson (14 points off the bench) for an unconscionably open three. After Ray Allen had missed a three off a jump ball, James lost Paul Pierce off a Joe Smith screen and drove right from the top of the key past James Posey to dunk high over Kevin Garnett as if he had jumped down off a roof. It was not only breathtaking but also revealing of the larger story. "I wanted to be aggressive," said James. "I hadn't had a play like that all series."
Late in the first half, Pierce tried to wrap up James to prevent a breakaway dunk and the two of them spun into the expensive seats behind the basket, at which point James' mother, Gloria, jumped into the fray to give Pierce a piece of her mind. Even as Pierce's arms were wrapped around him, James was yelling at his mother to back away. "The commissioner doesn't care if it's your mother or your kids: You can't allow fans and players to get involved with each other," said James. "I told her to sit down in some language I shouldn't have used. Thank god today wasn't Mother's Day."
"I haven't been through a shooting stretch like this since my rookie year,'' said James. As badly as he has been shooting, was he surprised to have turned this into a best-of-three series? "I'm not surprised," he said. "I'm not satisfied with my play, but I'm doing doing other things -- like I've done all year -- that need to be done for our team to win. I didn't shoot well, but it's not about me struggling from the field. It's about the team winning and that's what matters to me."
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