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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.

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