By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010; D01
BOSTON -- It didn't matter that they were NBA champions just two years ago; that they have a lineup that features three aging but still productive future Hall of Famers and one of the best young point guards in the league; or that they had been the better team for all but 1 1/2 games. For most of this second-round NBA playoff series, the Boston Celtics had been relegated to an accessory, a background prop, to LeBron James and the collapsing Cleveland Cavaliers.
But the Celtics no longer have to worry about being overlooked, or forgotten, after completing a six-game upset of the top-seeded Cavaliers, 94-85, on Thursday at TD Garden. The final game of the series played out like so many others, with the balanced attacked of the Celtics overwhelming the one-man James show.
"There's really no secrets," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. "Everybody was on the same page. And all we talked about throughout the series was individually, we're not going to beat them; we can't. But team-wise, together, running the formula, we had a chance."
Kevin Garnett led five players in double figures with 22 points and added a team-high 12 rebounds. Point guard Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 12 assists as Boston earned the right to face the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals.
In what could possibly be his final game as a Cavalier, James finished with a triple-double, scoring a game-high 27 points with 19 rebounds and 10 assists, but he missed 13 of his 21 shots and also had an uncharacteristic nine turnovers.
The loss expedited an unnerving offseason for the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland, which has to deal with yet another playoff disappointment after going 46 years without a major professional sports championship -- and now faces the possibility of losing the Akron native in free agency this summer. Celtics fans entered the fray by mockingly chanting, "New York Knicks!" every time James stepped to the foul line. When Anderson Varejao went to the foul line late in the fourth quarter, fans chanted, "LeBron is leaving!"
James offered little in the form of reassurance after the game, saying that he loves Cleveland but had not contemplated his future. "I've made no plans. The fact that it's over right now is a surprise to me," said James, whose team was bounced after finishing with the best regular season record in the NBA. "I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong. A friend of mine told me today after the game that I guess you have to go through a lot of nightmares before you accomplish your dream. That's what's going on individually for myself right now."
James arrived in Boston facing heavy scrutiny for his terrible outing in Game 5, when he appeared disinterested while scoring just 15 points on 3-of-14 shooting and the Cavaliers suffered a 32-point loss, the franchise's largest ever in a home playoff game. He is 0-4 when facing elimination on the road, with one of those losses coming two years ago in this building, where he scored 45 points in a Game 7 loss in the conference semifinals.
"Guarding LeBron James six games is just brutal. It really is," Rivers said. "He's just -- he's a monster. And I was proud of our guys because they accepted as a group that not one guy was going to be able to do it, and that the team was going to have to do it."
Maligned for much of the series, Cavaliers point guard Mo Williams provided a surprising spurt, as he scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half, but Cleveland could get little production elsewhere. Shaquille O'Neal, who was brought to Cleveland from Phoenix last summer with the goal to "win the ring for the King," will also be a free agent. But he was unable to have much influence on the outcome, as he was saddled with foul trouble and limited to just 11 points.
Antawn Jamison, whom the Cavaliers acquired from the Washington Wizards at the trade deadline, had a terrible performance and was noticeably tentative as he missed eight of his 10 shots and scored just five points. The Celtics repeatedly attacked him on the defensive end. Jamison was also on the wrong end of a vicious one-handed, jackhammer dunk by Tony Allen that gave the Celtics a 51-49 halftime lead.
"I had to do a better job than what I did. It wasn't enough," said Jamison, who averaged just 11.8 points in the series. "It's disappointing, the first part of the season, going through what I went through, and to get to this opportunity and not take advantage of it, it's tough."
In addition to James, the series could have marked the end of Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown's five-year tenure with the team. His players grew frustrated with his substitution patterns and failed adjustments against the Celtics. When asked about his future, Brown said: "I understand what my job is. I'm not thinking about that right now."
Brown also refused to speculate about James.
The James that played this series was not the same one who stampeded the league to claim his second consecutive most valuable player award. He admitted that his strained right elbow "limited me some" and he labored for the fourth time coming off just one day of rest. He made a free throw to give the Cavaliers a 55-51 lead early in the third quarter, but the Celtics responded with a 22-6 run, taking a 73-61 lead when Paul Pierce (13 points) made a three-pointer from the right corner with 2 minutes 15 seconds left in the period. Pierce and Garnett both scored eight points during the run, but the Celtics couldn't put away the Cavaliers.
Rondo gave the Celtics a 78-67 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Cavaliers scored the next seven points, with James connecting on back-to-back three-pointers to silence the sellout crowd. But with an opportunity to pull his team closer, James lost the ball to Rondo, who raced down the court for a layup that started a 10-0 run which included three-pointers by Pierce and Rasheed Wallace (13 points) and was capped by a fast-break dunk by Garnett that put the Celtics ahead, 88-74.
"We can be excited for one night, winning a game, winning a series, but I don't look at it like this made our season," Pierce said. "The only thing that's going to make our season is a championship."