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Knocking the Cavaliers out of the playoffs was one thing. What Kevin Garnett did next could be even more damaging to the fragile Cleveland psyche.
Looking back on his own path from high school to the NBA, where he languished in Minnesota for the first dozen years of his career, Garnett advised James to put loyalty to the Cavaliers aside and do what's best for himself and his family.
Noting the similarity in the two situations, Garnett said, "If I could go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I'd have done it a little sooner."
"Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can't get youth back," said Garnett, who advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once before winning the title with the Celtics in 2008, his first year in Boston. "I just told him, 'Keep your head up, man. I've been there. You have a very, very, very bright future. Continue to work and make decisions based on you and your family."'
Garnett scored 22 points and added 12 rebounds on Thursday night as the Celtics beat Cleveland 94-85 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to advance to a third-round matchup with the Orlando Magic.
The conference finals begin Sunday in Orlando.
Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 12 assists for Boston, and Paul Pierce scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half after playing just nine minutes - and shooting 1-for-5 - in the first with foul trouble.
James is headed for another early offseason after winning a second MVP award and leading the Cavs to an NBA-best 61 wins and a home-court advantage they never got to use.
"The fact that it's over right now is definitely a surprise to me," said James, who had his sixth career playoff triple-double. "A friend of mine told me, 'I guess you've got to go through a lot of nightmares before you realize your dream.' That's what's going on for me individually right now."
James is eligible to opt out of his contract this summer, a move that would make the two-time MVP - and zero-time NBA champion - a free agent and set off a scramble for his services from New York to Miami to Los Angeles and, of course, back in Cleveland.
"I want to win. That's my only thing, my only concern," James said. "I've always prided myself - it's all about winning for me and I think the Cavs are committed to doing that. But at the same time, I've given myself options to this point. Me and my team, we have a game plan that we'll execute and we'll see where we're at."
James scored 27 points with 10 assists, and his 19 rebounds matched a career high and were the most he's ever had in a playoff game. But he also had nine turnovers, and he may have been hobbled by an elbow injury that limited him to dunks and short jumpers, going 8 for 21 from the floor overall.
Mo Williams scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half for the Cavaliers, who for the second straight year finished the regular season with the No. 1 overall seed but failed to get out of the East. Last year, they lost to Orlando in the conference finals, an exit that left James so shaken he skulked off the court without shaking hands.
This year, he might not stop until he finds himself in a new city.
James seemed like he couldn't wait to slip off his Cavaliers jersey, pulling it off as soon as he reached the tunnel to the locker room. He casually flipped it to an attendant moments after he walked into the dressing room.
Cavs forward Anderson Varejao said he doesn't think the lack of a championship would taint James' legacy if he leaves, even in a city that hasn't won a major sports championship since the Browns won it all in 1964.
"I think he will be remembered for all the good he did," Varejao said. "It would be tough for everybody to lose LeBron, but it's his decision and he knows what to do."
Coach Mike Brown's future with the Cavs also appears uncertain. After a second straight postseason flameout, there's no guarantee management will bring him back for a sixth season.
Same goes for the hired guns brought in to help James. Shaquille O'Neal finished his first - and maybe last - season with the Cavaliers with 11 points against the Celtics. Antawn Jamison, acquired at the trade deadline from Washington, had just five points.
The sold-out Boston crowd taunted James' every free throw with a chant of "New York Knicks!" and fans wore Knicks jerseys with his name on them. The only "M-V-P!" cheers were not for James, who was the league's best player in the regular season, but for Rondo, who was the best player in this series.
The Celtics had missed their first eight 3-point attempts when Pierce hit a 3 that gave them a 65-58 lead with 4:06 left in the third. It was 67-61 when Rasheed Wallace hit a 3-pointer, and then Ray Allen stole James' pass and got the ball to Pierce for another 3 that completed a 16-4 run.
James hadn't made an outside shot before hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to cut it to four points, 78-74, early in the fourth quarter and force the Celtics to call a timeout. But Rondo drove for a layup, then set Pierce up for another 3. Pierce found Wallace for a 3-pointer and then Tony Allen's steal led to a Garnett dunk at the other end that sent the Cavaliers into a timeout to regroup, down 88-74 with 5:53 left in their season.
"You knew it was coming at some point with LeBron," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who reminded his players that they weren't good enough to take over the game. "That's what that timeout was about: to remind them that we can't do that, what LeBron was doing."
This program aired on May 14, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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