BOSTON — LeBron James went around James Posey, soared to the rim, put the ball up over Kendrick Perkins with his right hand while going slightly left … and missed a potential game-tying layup with just under 10 seconds remaining.
Just like that, the Cavaliers lost Game 1 of their best-of-seven playoff series with the Boston Celtics, 76-72.
“I laid the ball up over the top of the rim like I’ve done hundreds of times before and made it,” James said Wednesday before practice at TD Banknorth Garden. “When you’re 2-of-17, that’s what happens.
“That’s the way my night was going.”
James, who finished 2-of-18 from the field, had 12 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the loss while also tying his franchise playoff record with 10 turnovers.
The 23-year-old scored the first points of the game on a driving layup, then converted on a left-handed drive with 5:33 to go in the fourth period. His other 16 shots hit nothing but iron, including six 3-point attempts. The Akron native did make 8 of 10 free throws in the first half, but didn’t get to the line after intermission.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that despite James’ woeful performance, which included just two points in the second half, they still had a great chance to win. The bad news is they’re down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 2 tonight at 7, and it’s in Boston, where the Celtics are now 40-5 this season, including 3-0 against Cleveland.
“I know what I can do,” James said. “It’s never been a confidence issue. I know I can bounce back. I have good teammates. It’s not like I’m soul-searching. I know I can’t play any worse than I did in Game 1.”
The last statement also applies to the Cleveland offense as a whole. The Cavaliers set a team playoff record by shooting just .307 from the field (23-of-75) in Game 1, with Delonte West going 2-of-10, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson going 2-of-6 and Wally Szczerbiak, who started 0-of-5, finishing 5-of-14.
“We can’t shoot 30 percent and win,” James said. “I’m not going to shoot 2-of-18 again. I’m not going to make 10 turnovers again. I’m looking forward to Game 2.”
After reviewing videotape, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown came up with three things his team has to do better in its half-court sets: reverse the ball from one side of the court to the other quicker, sometimes multiple times; create better spacing; and be more aggressive driving to the hoop.
All that starts with James, who led the NBA in scoring during the regular season at 30.0 a game.
“He is who he is,” Brown said. “It’s as simple as that. He’s human. He had a tough night, but he hasn’t had many tough nights in a row. Usually when he has a tough night, he bounces back.”
The Celtics, who led the NBA in field goal percentage defense during the regular season and held Atlanta to just 65 points in Game 7 of their first-round series, know that better than anyone.
James, of course, also knows Boston All-Stars Paul Pierce (four points, 2-of-14) and Ray Allen (no points, 0-of-4) probably aren’t going to combine for just four points on 2-of-18 shooting again in Game 2.
“You don’t expect a great player like Paul to have an off night like that,” James said. “You don’t expect a great player like Ray to have an off night like that. I don’t expect myself to have an off night like that.”
Pierce and Allen, not coincidently, were Boston’s primary defenders on James, though Posey did guard the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder for brief periods.
The Celtics almost always crowded the paint in an effort to make it difficult for James to drive, but the Cavaliers never really tried to post up their small forward when he was being defended by the much softer Allen, who is three inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter.
“I had some shots,” James maintained. “They just didn’t fall. It happens every now and then. I’ll just try to get some easy ones, then the jumpers will fall.
“I’m not worried. At the end of the day, we still had a chance to win the ballgame. I wasn’t satisfied with the way I played, but we were still right there.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.
WHO: Cleveland at Boston
WHAT: Game 2, Eastern Conference semifinals; Boston leads best-of-seven series, 1-0
TIME: 7 o’clock
WHERE: TD Banknorth Garden, Boston
TV/RADIO: Channel 43, FSN Ohio, ESPN; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM