2010 NBA Playoffs: Cavaliers Seal Fate with Game Five Performance

Eric FelkeyAnalyst IMay 12, 2010

CLEVELAND - MAY 11:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers untucks his jersey after being defeated 120-88 by the Boston Celtics in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 11, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I've been sitting and staring at a blank screen for about 20 minutes. The only thought that's running through my head that I would feel comfortable (and that would be appropriate) writing down is "why did I agree to write something about this game in the first place?"

All day before this game, and even yesterday, a weird feeling ran through my veins. But it wasn't one of paranoia, or nervousness, or excitement—it was a feeling of nothingness.

Normally, I get amped up over a meaningless preseason game against Boston, for God's sake. I'm the same guy that threw up before an Ohio State/Michigan game because of nerves...and I was just watching it on TV!

But I wasn't even excited about tonight's game...it was an eerie, strange emotion. One that I've never experienced during the playoffs before.

Apparently, the same nothingness I was feeling was flowing through the veins of LeBron James and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Because I've never seen a more indifferent, uninspired performance than I did on Tuesday night...the second half in particular.

Trying to put the pieces in order after a debacle like this is like trying to rebuild a car at the scene of an accident—why bother? You're not going to find all the pieces, and there's certainly no way you can put it back together.

And you don't even know where to begin.

Sure, you can take potshots at the role players. I'll start with Mo Williams, who left Ray Allen open for two three-pointers to start the second half, and then, when switched to Rondo, gave up four buckets inside of 10 feet.

It might have been the worst defensive stretch of his career...and that's saying something. Hell, Mike Brown called a 20-second timeout halfway through the third just to yank him out of the game.

Speaking of Mike Brown...I stood up for him all weekend, but I'm not trying that tonight. They say a team reflects the personality of its coach...this is a shaky, waffling, uninspired, and emotionless team that doesn't play hard in the biggest game of the year.

Gather your own conclusions.

Or maybe we can go after Antawn Jamison, who was brought in to spread the floor and create mismatches. Except the only mismatch he's creating is on the defensive end, where he's making Kevin Garnett look like he's 25 again.

Don't forget Anthony Parker, who supposedly was a lock-down defender, but can't chase Ray Allen around, can't keep Rondo in front of him, and gets bullied around in the post by Paul Pierce.

But the role players are just that...role players.

Unfortunately, fair or unfair, just or unjust, this game falls on the shoulders of one man: LeBron James.

I've watched him for seven years. In that time, I don't think I've ever muttered a bad word about the man, let alone taken the time to reflect and write one about him.

Until tonight.

Charles Barkley was phenomenal in the postgame report on Inside the NBA . Pretty much everything he said rang true. Like the line (when referring to James' play this evening), "I am 100 percent disappointed."

Or (and I'm paraphrasing here, the TiVo didn't record far enough), "when I played against MVP guys like Malone and Jordan, I knew that they would leave everything they had on the court. I didn't feel like LeBron did that tonight."

I really didn't want to believe it, but it's true. When James is aggressive and attacking, the rest of the team follows suit. When he's passive, disinterested, and uninvolved, the team follows suit.

Again, Barkley said it best (and again, I'm paraphrasing): "Role players are role players for a reason. They follow suit; they don't lead. That's why it's on the superstar to perform."

Like it or not, whatever pieces the Cavs bring in, no matter how great the player's pedigree is, they will wind up just being role players to LeBron.

And there's no way anybody can justifiably defend his performance, his aggressiveness, his passive nature during arguably the biggest game of his career—certainly the biggest game of his team's season.

And then there's his postgame quotes...they're mind-boggling.

"I'm not worried. I think the thing you worry about is our inconsistent play."

Oh really? You think so, King?

"As far as the series, I'm not worried about it."

Well good LeBron. I mean, it's not like you guys have played with no intensity and desire for 75 percent of the series. It's good to think you can dog it for four out of five games and still win two in a row against an experienced, championship-level team like Boston.

"...But I don't hang my head low and make excuses."

I would imagine so. Because whatever your excuse is for turning in the worst playoff loss in franchise history, I don't want to hear it.

And then there's the best one of all...

"I spoil a lot of people with my play. When you have three bad games in a seven-year career, it is easy to point that out."

I don't even know where to start with this one. I'll give you the fact that you've spoiled an abundance of fans (like me) with your play.

But (and how can I stress this enough)...this is the biggest game of the season . Arguably, I'd say it's the biggest game of your career. You've never faced more pressure and scrutiny during a game or series than this.

And for that to be the performance you put forth? It's just...I mean...I don't even know how to describe it.

When you're a Cleveland fan, you expect the worst. It equates with the self-fulfilling prophecy that Bill Simmons discussed in his column last week.

"You go into every big game expecting to lose, and when it happens, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy .

"You claim to have your guard up, but deep down, that guard is lowered just enough that you're hoping against hope that THIS game will be different. Only it never is."

And you could tell as much when the third quarter started. When Ray Allen hit two three's in less than a minute, the crowd knew what to expect. They've seen this for 46 years...it's nothing new.

But when you supposedly have the savior in your corner, this game should be different. It has to be different.

But it wasn't.

And it isn't.

It takes a strong team with a lot of character, and even more heart, to come back from a deficit like this. Not just a three games to two deficit, but to bounce back from (statistically and historically) a franchise's worst-ever loss to win two consecutive games against a championship team like the Celtics.

And this Cavalier team has proven they have none of that. It's not a reverse-jinx, it's not the panicked thoughts of a long-suffering fan...it's the reality of someone who has watched every Cleveland game this season.

Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Brian Windhorst (a personal favorite, and somewhat of a mentor to me, even if I don't know the guy) tweeted during the Celtics run, "can't dodge the feeling that the fallout from this night and effort could be felt for years. That's the reality."

It burned for a second, then set in. He's absolutely right.

A franchise player can't let this happen. No matter what the injury, no matter how the defense reacted, no matter what the circumstance...there's no way that this scenario can end well.

LeBron says he's not worried, that the Cavs can win two in a row, that they just have to focus and get down to business. I've heard this before ...

But this time, and for the first time in seven years, I don't believe him.


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