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May 14, 2010

A tarnished crown for the King

BOSTON — As the ad campaign centered on LeBron James said, we were "all witnesses" last night. But it was not greatness that we witnessed.

Instead, those who watched the Celtics dispatch the Cleveland Cavaliers to clinch the Eastern Conference semifinal series witnessed the man long ago anointed the greatest player in the NBA turn in what can only be described as a disappointing performance.

Don't allow the numbers to fool you.

On the stat sheet, LeBron's 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists look like a terrific game.

But it was not King James on the court last night. Not the man Sports Illustrated made a cover boy as a junior in high school, or the one who saw more ESPN cameras before his 18th birthday than the Los Angeles Clippers see in a decade.

Greatness takes over, particularly in basketball. But LeBron James was far from Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson or Larry Bird last night. Except for Game 3, James never took over in the series.

Fans jeered James as the Jumbotron showed the "History" tattoo on his leg. And now in his seventh and possibly final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, that history may be one of disappointment, with one NBA Finals appearance, and no titles.

"I didn't play this season wondering about the offseason," said James. "I played every game as hard as I could. It was never a factor."

But fans can be forgiven for having some doubt about that statement.

As the game wore on last night, LeBron appeared more and more passive with the ball. He frequently passed up open looks and opportunities to drive to the lane, kicking the ball out to far-inferior outside shooters. That at times while being guarded by the likes of Tony Allen and 7-footer Kevin Garnett.

James shot just 4 of 9 from the field in the second half, two of which were 3-pointers within 23 seconds of each other and one was a dunk with 2:07 left. And while much of the blame was being passed onto his supporting cast, point guard Mo Williams played the game of his life with 22 points (20 in the first half) and seven rebounds.

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