NBA: With season over, questions remain for LeBron
By MIKE LOPRESTI
BOSTON - His aura was open for inspection Thursday night, to a world abruptly grown harsh and skeptical. Everything suddenly seemed fair game on LeBron James: his state of mind, his leadership, his legacy, certainly his future.
The record will show he had a triple double in this last stand: 27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists. No one could ever say that was not answering the call. No one could ever say he was sick at sea in Game 6.
But the record will also say he lost, maybe for the last time as a Cleveland Cavalier. If this is goodbye, how long will the ending be sour for him, since it will be sour forever for the city he leaves behind?
He has no reason for humiliation after Thursday, but there is cause for hurt.
This seemed the night to keep a diary of a possible last bow.
6:41 p.m. - A platoon of microphones and tape recorders corner James in his locker. He reels off three minutes of answers in a monotone voice, as if by rote. Clearly, it has been a long two days since Tuesday's mess.
No, he has not been undone by the past two days of searing criticism, after a career of being deluged with roses. "It's always about what have you done for me lately. I understand that. We've got to do our best to go out there and prove our doubters wrong."
6:51 p.m. - Getting his ankles taped, James scoops the last of his yogurt and sings along with the music blaring from his headphones.
One pertinent lyric: "Y'all want me to fail. I ain't failed yet."
7:05 p.m. - In the hallway, Boston coach Doc Rivers talks of the importance of finishing off the Cavaliers - and James - this very night.
"We've won in Cleveland twice. We don't want to press our luck," he says. "We're going to have to win a game eventually - maybe tonight - when he has a big game.
"One guy isn't going to stop LeBron. One guy hasn't stopped LeBron. But a team can try."
8:05 p.m. - James' last post-season resin cloud as a Cavalier?
11:29 (on the game clock), first quarter - James scores on a dunk. His first basket comes 29 minutes earlier than it did in Game 5.
10:27, second quarter - While the always helpful Garden fans venomously chant "New York Knicks," - possibly inducing nausea back in Cleveland - James hits a free throw to complete a 3-point play.
Halftime - Celtics lead 51-49. James has four field goals, all of them layups.
9:34, fourth quarter - At last, James scores from beyond three feet. He hits a 3-pointer, and then another, and what was a 12-point Boston lead is suddenly four. But it is a mirage. The Celtics go on a 10-0 run.
10:53 pm. - It's over. The game, 94-85. The series. Maybe the James Era in Cleveland. The night is another example of how much help he still needs, but doesn't have. Note the 24 turnovers. Of course, he had nine himself.
He hugs the Celtics, flips his headband to the stands as he leaves, and yanks off his uniform before he gets to the locker room.
11:15 p.m. - "The post-season is a different game," Mike Brown says. It is something - the ability to find another gear in May - that his Cavs have yet to understand, James or not.
11:56 p.m. - "The world is he whatever he wants it to be," Boston's Kevin Garnett says of James. "He's the face of basketball."
12:01 a.m. - And finally, James at the podium.
"I didn't play this season wondering what I was going to do in the post-season," he said to what is now the main issue of urgency in the city of Cleveland.
"I have no plans. I've made no plans."
His elbow? Was that why he so seldom looked himself against the Celtics? "I'm not using the elbow as an excuse."
But? "It limited me some."
The anguish he was feeling? He quoted what a friend told him after the game: "You've got to go through a lot of nightmares before you accomplish your dream."
OK, back to the topic everyone wants to know about.
"I'm not thinking about it right now. I'm trying to figure out what went wrong.
"I'll approach the summer with a great mindset. . . . First of all, I want to win. That's my only concern."
He might still be looking back and wondering why. Everyone else is looking ahead and wondering who.