Behind the Box Score, where LeBron James did not care

Boston 120, Cleveland 88
; Boston leads series, 3-2

It's OK to be astonished.

A day later and I'm still astonished. Because we've never seen anything like this. Not in the performance department, not in any contextual department, not with this much to gain or lose. The way LeBron James(notes) disappointed in Game 5 against Boston? It's almost too strong for words.

In every conceivable facet, this man failed. He failed to defend his home turf. He failed to lead his team to a win it needed. He failed to give his team what it needed when the clarion call came for points, points, points. He failed to give his team what it needed when it came time to rack up his teammates' points and confidence. He failed to defend as the game went on, absolutely mailing it in. He failed to do anything to quash those of whom that seem more obsessed with his permanence and impermanence in Cleveland than they do the game of basketball.

Above all, he failed himself. And when the best player in the game fails himself, that's a long, long fall.

To call it "miserable" or "embarrassing," two words we often toss around these BtBs, just isn't enough. James, I'm sorry; but it looked like he was tanking. It looked like he was trying to lose. This was that awful. There have been scads of players who take plays off or bad shots or don't care. It happens nightly. But never a player this gifted, with so much on the line, for so long. Never, ever.

The closest comps? Maybe Jordan's Bulls falling short in 1990, but that was to a better team, on the road. Kobe's Lakers in 2006, with Kobe clearly playing the martyr and feeling sorry for himself? Sure, but those Lakers weren't championship-worthy, and you could see why Kobe was pouting. You couldn't excuse it, but you understood.

I don't understand this. I can't see how a person who has been handed the court vision and ability that LeBron James has, followed by the years upon years of success that has resulted from staying aggressive offensively and driving to the basket, could play like this. Even taking into account his massive ego, and his aversion to responsibility. It's an art crime of the highest order, and the only thing worse would be if we somehow found out that LeBron was trying to lose on purpose.

It's ridiculous to even suggest, but that's how shocking this game, and this performance, was. I can't possibly begin to conceive what's going on in his head as it is -- to decorate yourself in logos of your own design and to draw attention to yourself at any cost is an anathema to me -- but I could always at least be even with him on a basketball level. Until Game 5. I can't argue that away.

Because though my game is pretty much crap, I at least know that as tempting as that pull-up jumper is in transition, a bit of penetration can go a long way, especially if you're playing with teammates. But I can understand the temptation, the spark that drives that bad jumper, just because one in seven go in for me, and two of five go in for him. You always think the next one is going in, you can argue away the lazy, and when you watch James shoot those fadeaways, you can understand.

I can't understand what would lure LeBron into a performance like this. What would drive him toward this. He wasn't just missing from long range. He would disappear in the corner, as a small forward (this league's most redundant and anonymous position), and barely make a peep. He would, with an entire right side of the floor open to him, barely bother to go three-quarters of the way around a pick in order pull up for a 21-footer. Shoulders weren't squared, feet weren't set, follow-through a scurrilous rumor, and the ball acted as it is supposed to do in that situation.

He just didn't care. There was no there, there. He threw a couple of nice passes in the first quarter, had a couple of would-be assists frittered away by his teammates, and that was it. The highlight of his night. He could not have disappointed more.

The Cavs, beyond him, weren't that good. Mo Williams(notes) made some poor decisions with the ball, but the rest of the offense was as good as you'd expect it to be with LeBron playing as he did and Mike Brown choking all over the sideline for 48 minutes.

The defense? It was awful. The Celtics (remember them?) rightfully credited their defense for this win, and they'd be right in that regard, but the C's really took it to the open spaces that the Cavaliers allowed. Penetration, all night, starting with Paul Pierce(notes) sending LeBron spiraling backwards on two hard dribble pull-ups in the first half, continuing with the easy (for me to say) post-up opportunities for several Celtics, and ending with just about everyone having a chance at the rim in the second half, as the Cavaliers followed their leader.

In the middle of that was Ray Allen(notes), who was the go-to guy as the C's put Cleveland away. Flick of the wrist, and they're dead, baby, as Allen managed 25 points on just 13 shots, tossing in six of nine three-point attempts. Rajon Rondo(notes) brought the consistent penetration, and Kevin Garnett(notes) nailed when he was supposed to -- 8-of-14 shooting, 18 points.

This was LeBron's game, though. LeBron's game to waste, LeBron's legacy to ruin, LeBron's lifetime of brilliance to put on hold.

You're free to dismiss. Have at him.

What to Read Next