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Celtics send Cavaliers — and LeBron James? — packing

Boston eliminates Cleveland, 94-85, in Game 6 in James' last game before he becomes a free agent. Where he plays next season could affect the balance of the NBA.

May 13, 2010|By Mark Heisler

Reporting from Boston -- The witnesses are excused.

It wasn't just the East draw that trembled Thursday night, but the entire NBA balance of power as the so-recently mighty Cleveland Cavaliers fell to Earth in the last game on LeBron James' contract.

In a crowning indignity at a particularly bad time, with James about to decide his future, the Cavaliers fell Thursday night, 94-85, to the aging Boston Celtics, who captured the series they started as heavy underdogs, 4-2.

The Celtics, who staggered down the stretch, falling to No. 4 and into the Cavaliers' bracket, which seemed like a bad idea at the time, advance to the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando.

The Cavaliers advance to the off-season with a newly enhanced possibility of losing James as a free agent.

With the crowd chanting " New York Knicks!", James went out looking like the imitation of himself he'd been since his left-handed free throw at the end of the Chicago series revealed he had a sore right elbow.

"I'm not using the elbow for an excuse," James said. "It limited me some. You hope to be 100% going into the series but at this point of the season, I don't know anybody who's 100%."

Actually, James looked closer to 50%, given a major part of his game, driving the ball to the basked right-handed, was missing.

Being LeBron, he was still capable of getting a triple-double on a difficult night Thursday, with 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists.

However, he didn't put his stamp on the game, as he always had but did only once in this series, in Game 3, and never looked like his old runaway train self.

He often played more like a point guard than the game's ultimate weapon, and often dropped out of the offense, altogether.

Thursday he took 21 shots, missed 13 and turned the ball over nine times, putting him one from a farewell quadruple-double.

The Cavaliers reeled into town off their Game 5 debacle, in which they lost by 32 points with James shooting three for 14 in their own Quicken Loans Arena, known locally as "The Q" or not, as Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston called it, "The Quit."

With owner Dan Gilbert noting the effort wasn't "anywhere near the high expectations all of us have," the Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst compiled a list of endangered Cavaliers that read like the team directory: General Manager Danny Ferry, Coach Mike Brown, Shaquille O'Neal.

Between games, James was his light-hearted self, joking with teammates in a shooting contest, "I got a handicap sticker on."

Of course, he continued to insist to the media that nothing was wrong, even while noting matter-of-factly his elbow was still bothering him.

"You always have certain injuries you hope they don't flare up during the course of the game," he said before Game 6. "But I always feel pretty good before the game.

"With the elbow, it's just a matter of going out and seeing how it feels that day."

It didn't look like it felt that good Thursday, either. The Cavaliers trailed, 51-49, at halftime after twice coming back from double-digit deficits, because Mo Williams put on a LeBron-esque show, scoring 20 points.

Williams finished with 22. Without James putting them on those broad shoulders, as he has for the seven seasons that led up to the start of this series, the Cavaliers were over their heads.

"I geared myself for the postseason," said James, declining to speculate on his intentions. "The fact that it's over right now is definitely a surprise to myself but it is what it is.

"A friend of mine told me, 'I guess you have to go through a lot of nightmares before you finally accomplish your dreams.'

"And that's what's going on for me as an individual right now."

In the closest thing to a silver lining for the Cavaliers, at least Williams is under contract for next season.

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