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LeBron James refused to blame anyone. He wasn't about to cry about his ailing elbow or offer any excuses.
However, something appears wrong.
The NBA's two-time MVP isn't himself, and it could be more than the Boston Celtics who are making him look bad.
Missing wide-open shots and looking uninspired for long stretches, James had one of the worst playoff games of his career as the Cleveland Cavaliers were embarrassed 120-88 in Game 5 on Monday night by the Celtics, who are headed home with a 3-2 series lead.
James scored 15 points on just 3-of-14 shooting, a shocking performance for a player who has always risen in the season's biggest moments.
This time, he fell as flat as his jumper.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out be great and the best player on the court," said James, who removed the protective sleeve from his injured right elbow in the third quarter. "When I'm not, I feel bad for myself because I'm not going out there and doing the things I know I can do.
"But I don't hang my head low and make excuses, because that is not the type of player or the type of person I am."
Ray Allen scored 25 points, Rajon Rondo scored all of his 16 in the second half and the Celtics, once thought too old to challenge for another title, moved within one win of knocking the league's top team from the playoffs and earning a date with Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals.
Paul Pierce added 21 and Kevin Garnett 18 for the Celtics, who handed the Cavs their worst home playoff loss in history and can end Cleveland's season - and maybe James' career with the Cavaliers - with a win in Game 6 on Thursday night.
"We cannot come back here," Garnett said. "We have to think this is our Game 7 coming up and we cannot afford to have the best team in the league have a Game 7 on their floor. Just not possible."
James, on the verge of an expected trip into free agency on July 1, had an atrocious game but wouldn't blame it on his elbow, which the Cavs have said is sprained and bruised.
"I missed a lot of open shots that I normally make," he said with little emotion. "You don't see that out of me a lot so when it happens, it's a big surprise."
Because of James' uncertain future, Game 5 may have been his last at home for Cleveland and it has set up Game 6 as the most important in franchise history: Win and force Game 7 on Sunday in Cleveland; lose and maybe watch James, the local kid trying to deliver this city its first pro championship since 1964, leave for good.
James said he never considered that his season is slipping away.
"I didn't even think about it, me sitting up here and saying it could me our last game," James said. "It wouldn't be me, it wouldn't be our team."
Cavs coach Mike Brown was surprised as anyone to see James not be James.
"It's unlike him," Brown said. "He had an off night, which is abnormal. He brings it for us almost every night and he tried to bring it tonight, but it was an off day. He will be ready for Game 6."
Rondo, coming off a 29-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist performance in Game 4, was held without a point in the first half as the Cavs concentrated their defense on stopping the point guard from penetrating into the paint. He finally got loose in the third, burning Mo Williams repeatedly and scoring 12 as the Celtics opened a 21-point lead.
When Boston went up by 24 in the fourth, battered Cleveland fans headed toward the exits trying to figure out what went wrong.
James finally checked out with 3:58 left and the Celtics leading by 27. He shrugged his shoulders and slapped hands with Cleveland's coaches and teammate Shaquille O'Neal, who had 21 points and was one of the only Cavaliers who came to play.
O'Neal came to Cleveland with the goal to "win a ring for the King." The 18-year veteran is counting on his young teammates stepping up.
"I've been in the league a long time and I've been in this situation before," he said. "Our message is very simple. You've just got to win two."
Although the Cavs have shown no signs of fixing their problems, James remains confident they can win two more.
"I'm not worried," James said. "The thing you worry about is our consistent play. We haven't been there consistently throughout the playoffs."
Before the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said his team would not change its strategy.
"We are who we are," Rivers said. "We don't need anyone to play hero basketball. We have to be a team. We're good when we're a team."
And through five games, the Celtics have been the better one. Because of injuries, Boston, two years removed from its 17th NBA championship, never found its groove in the regular season.
The Celtics got it now.
They've outperformed the top-seeded Cavs in almost every aspect of the game, outrunning and outhustling a younger team that with the addition of O'Neal, Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker, was built for the postseason but has yet to show it's serious about winning a title.
It's time the Cavs started.
"We have to get it done," Brown said. "There's no tricks. We have to win Game 6 in Boston."
This program aired on May 12, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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