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Is this the end of the LeBron era in Cleveland?

05.12.10 at 11:58 am ET
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Last Friday, in the wake of the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ dominant 124-95 win over the Celtics at TD Garden in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, everyone was ready to call the series over. LeBron James was back, putting behind any notions of a elbow troubles by coming through with an unstoppable performance, tallying 38 points, eight boards and seven assists in the blowout.

But that was then, and this is now. Now being the day after James submitted an astonishing 3-14 effort and finished with just 15 points in a 120-88 Game 5 loss to the Celtics. Just when it looked like James and the Cavs were going to take control of the series, the Celtics bounced back to win two straight, and now have the chance to take the series in Game 6 at the Garden Thursday.

By no means are the Cavaliers done, particularly the way the Celtics have played at home this season. But there was an air of finality on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, as only a handful of people were left in the seats to watch what might have been LeBron James’ last game on that court as part of the home team.

The question has loomed large in Cleveland (and New York) all season, and with the Cavs one game away from having their season come to an abrupt finish fans are getting antsy. Depending on whether or not you want to believe James’ “official biographer,” he is all but gone from Cleveland, whether the Cavs can rebound and end up winning the title or not. And with offers like this, how could you blame him?

While LeBron’s destination for the 2010-11 season isn’t a certainty, there was no denying that he struggled mightily on Tuesday night. And the King is catching a lot of flack for his performance, with much of the blame being placed squarely on his shoulders despite the struggles the rest of his team had both offensively and particularly defensively in Game 5. Much of the discussion has centered on the fact that the Cavs have looked like a team without much of an identity, particularly when compared to the Celtics. For all the hoopla over Boston’s regular season troubles, it is the Celtics who have found the rhythm in this series (minus that Game 3, where it seemed they barely showed up) and the Cavs who have looked lost.

There is at least some sentiment that that could be caused by chemistry issues. For all the talk of Cleveland’s abundance of talent, Mike Brown has had trouble juggling it in this series. That was on display Tuesday night when he gave Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had barely played at all in this series, an extended run and even put a cold Daniel Gibson in during the third quarter when he felt the game slipping away. There is some suggestion that maybe a new coach could keep LeBron in his home state. Despite what Brown has done to help mold this Cleveland into a contender, you can bet that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert will do whatever it takes to keep James from leaving. But it is not like the blame that has been placed on LeBron himself has not been warranted. Brian Windhorst, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s beat writer for the Cavs, wrote that he has seen chemistry problems develop as James has acted increasingly “disengaged” in this playoff series.

So you have every right to be afraid, Cleveland fans. If the Celtics win on Thursday, the Cavs could lose a lot more than just this series.

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, LeBron James,

Fast Break: Celtics – Cavs

05.11.10 at 11:08 pm ET
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Final Score: Celtics 120, Cavaliers 88

The Celtics limited LeBron James to just three field goals as they handed the Cavaliers their worst home loss in playoff history, 120-88, in Game 5 Tuesday night in Cleveland. James shot 3-for-14 from the floor and scored nine of his 15 points at the free throw line. The Cavs were minus-22 with James on the court.

Rajon Rondo got off to a slow start and was scoreless in the first half. But he proved the Cavs still don’€™t have an answer to stop him — he scored 16 points in the last two quarters. Paul Pierce broke out of his offensive slump with 21 points (9-for-21 from the field) and recorded a double-double with 11 rebounds. Ray Allen led all players with 25 points after a 6-for-9 performance from behind the arc. Kevin Garnett scored 18 points while Glen Davis added 15 off the bench.

With the commanding win, the Celtics took a 3-2 lead as the series heads back to Boston for Game 6 on Thursday.

First Quarter: Cavaliers 23, Celtics 20

After his remarkable Game 4 performance, Rajon Rondo was scoreless through the first quarter. The point guard shot 0-for-1 from the field with one rebound, two turnovers, and no assists in 11 minutes. But this was not because of a change in defense. The Cavaliers started Anthony Parker, not LeBron James, on Rondo. Just as notably, James was also scoreless (0-for-2 from the field) through 12 minutes. So who was scoring? Instead of Rondo and James, Pierce had six points, tied for a team-high with Kevin Garnett. Foul trouble began early once again for the Celtics as Kendrick Perkins picked up two personal fouls halfway through the first quarter.

Halftime: Celtics 50, Cavaliers 44

The Celtics bounced back from a 3-point first quarter deficit to outscore the Cavaliers, 30-21, in the second. The biggest question entering Game 4 was, who would shut down Rondo? (And as always, containing James was a concern.) But the biggest story of the half was the lack of scoring by both. Neither player made a field goal ‘€” Rondo was scoreless while all of James eight points came at the line (0-for-4 from the field). Pierce, who has struggled offensively the entire series, led all players with 14 points. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were right behind with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Mo Williams and Shaquille O’€™Neal scored seven points apiece for the Cavs. But the Celtics were not in the clear. Their unit of bigs were been hampered by foul trouble — Rasheed Wallace had four personals while Perkins and Glen Davis were both called for three.

Third Quarter: Celtics 80, Cavaliers 63

Rondo exploded for 12 points in the third quarter to give the Celtics a 17-point lead heading into the fourth. The C’€™s came out halftime on a 6-0 run led by a pair of Ray Allen 3-pointers, and continued on a 23-8 stretch. James scored his first field goal of the game off of a fast break dunk. But he continued to struggle, shooting 2-for-11 from the floor (12 points overall). Allen led all players with 22 points (including 5-for-8 on threes) and Garnett and Pierce were tied with 16 points. Shaquille O’€™Neal was the Cavs’€™ leading scorer with 13 points. The Celtics outshot the Cavaliers, 49.2 percent to 39.6 percent through three.

Fourth Quarter: Celtics 120, Cavaliers 88

Glen Davis scored 8 points in a span of 1:11 as the Celtics built their lead up to 14 points with a 10-3 run. James scored just three points in the quarter before Mike Brown sat the starter. Emotions still ran high, though, even with the game out of reach for the Cavs. Rondo and Mo Williams were called for double-technical fouls with a 23-point differential. Both coaches cleared their benches and Marquis Daniels and Shelden Williams scored the final six points for the C’€™s.

Third Quarter Wrap: Celtics – Cavs

05.11.10 at 10:14 pm ET
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Third Quarter Score: Celtics 80, Cavaliers 63

Rajon Rondo exploded for 12 points in the third quarter to give the Celtics a 17-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The C’s came out halftime on a 6-0 run led by a pair of Ray Allen 3-pointers, and continued on a 23-8 stretch.

LeBron James scored his first field goal of the game off of a fast break dunk. He continues to struggle, shooting 2-for-11 from the floor (12 points overall).

Ray Allen leads all players with 22 points (5-8 3PG) and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are tied with 16 points. Shaquille O’Neal is the Cavs’ leading scorer with 13 points. The Celtics are outshooting the Cavaliers, 49.2 percent to 39.6 percent.

Halftime Wrap: Celtics – Cavs

05.11.10 at 9:30 pm ET
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Halftime Score: Celtics 50, Cavaliers 44

The Celtics bounced back from a 3-point first quarter deficit to outscore the Cavaliers, 30-21, in the second. They have a six-point lead at halftime.

The biggest question entering Game 4 was, who would shut down Rajon Rondo? And as always, containing LeBron James was a concern. But the biggest story of the half is the lack of scoring by both players. Neither player has made a field goal — Rondo is scoreless while all of James eight points have come at the line (0-4 FG).

Paul Pierce, who has struggled offensively the entire series, leads all players with 14 points. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are right behind with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Mo Williams and Shaquille O’Neal have scored seven points apiece for the Cavs.

But the Celtics are far from being in the clear. Their unit of bigs has been hampered by foul trouble – Rasheed Wallace has four personals while Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis were both called for three.

First Quarter Wrap: Celtics – Cavs

05.11.10 at 8:38 pm ET
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First Quarter Score: Cavaliers 23, Celtics 20

After his remarkable Game 4 performance, Rajon Rondo is scoreless through the first quarter. The point guard is 0-for-1 from the field with one rebound, two turnovers, and no assists in 11 minutes. But this was not because of a change in defense. The Cavaliers started Anthony Parker, not LeBron James, on Rondo.

James is also scoreless (0-2 FG) through 12 minutes, a testament to the defense of Paul Pierce.

Instead of Rondo and James leading the way, Pierce has six points, tied for a team-high with Kevin Garnett. Kendrick Perkins found himself in early foul trouble with two personals halfway through the quarter.

Passing of the torch? Doc passes

05.11.10 at 7:48 pm ET
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CLEVELAND — For the last few days all the talk around the Celtics has been on the passing of the torch from the Big Three to Rajon Rondo. Funny, but the Celtics don’t look at it that way.

“That’s for y’all, I’m just trying to get them to pass the ball to each other,” Doc Rivers said. “That torch stuff, I’m going to leave that alone. As long as they keep passing to each other, I’m good.”

Read More: Doc Rivers, Rajon Rondo,

Searching for consistency in an inconsistent series

05.11.10 at 7:44 pm ET
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CLEVELAND — Through four games of this series, neither the Celtics nor the Cavaliers have been able to establish anything that could be easily identified as momentum. There have been two blowouts, two close games and two road wins.

The prevailing thought hours before Game 5 was that no one knows what’s going to happen tonight.

“Rhythm-less,” is how Doc Rivers termed it. “No one’s won two games in a row. I suspect this game tonight, I think both teams are going to play really well and we’re going to have a better understanding.”

Ray Allen, for one, is not surprised that the series has gone the way it has.

“I believe in momentum during the regular season,” Allen said. “Even though we played a day-a-and-a-half ago, the turnaround is so quick. We know what they’re doing. They know what we’re doing. You have to create whatever momentum from one day to the next. You can’t just think that the last game gets you to win the next game. It gets you the loss, really.”

The Celtics have been searching for consistency since the dawn of the new year. Injuries took them out of their comfort zone, but even when the players started returning, getting back into a groove proved difficult.

“We knew who we were,” Rivers said. “We knew our identity. We started off the season with it and then we lost our way.”

It’s now become clear that their decisive first round win over Miami kickstarted the Celtics rejuvenation. Throughout that series, the Celtics won games with their defense, which fed their transition game.

“I hate to say that we bypassed what we did in the regular season,” Allen said. “But once the playoffs came everybody was ready to play. Regardless of who we played, we knew homecourt wasn’t going to sustain us. We have to win in somebody else’s building and here we are.We never talked about it. It was never anything that any of us ever worried about. In the first round we had to just play.”

And now? “I still think that it’s 2-2 and we’ve both won on each other’s court,” Allen said. “It’s a three-game series and now it starts to get really interesting.”

Read More: Ray Allen,
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