LeBron James sat in front of his locker, both feet settled into a rectangular gray tub of ice water. He read from the final box score.
"A lot of shots I didn't make," James said. "Layups, pull-ups. The last one. The ball was all the way in, it just jumped out. It was a symbol of the type of night I had."
What a night. LeBron made only 2 of 18 shots in a 4-point playoff loss to the Celtics. He committed 10 turnovers. He had 9 rebounds and 9 assists to go with his measly 12 points. Almost a dubious quadruple-double.
Staying with the cold symbolism, James placed the stat sheet on top of the ice water between his ankles.
"Combine me with Paul [Pierce] and we were 4 for 32 with 16 turnovers," said the 23-year-old superstar. "0 for 9 on 3-pointers. Not two All-Star numbers there."
James was remarkably composed. He'd just played one of the worst games of his professional career. He'd missed two drives down the stretch. Nothing worked. But he wasn't angry or mute. He was mature and confident. Maybe that's what it's like when you are as good as LeBron James. You know you're going to get them next time. Bet Bill Russell was the same way after a horrible game at the start of a playoff series.
"He tried to attack the rim," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown "Guys have tough nights like that. He very seldom has a game like that, but I'm sure he'll bounce back. He had a tough night and he's definitely entitled to it.
"I'm not worried about him. He'll definitely bounce back in Game 2."
Earlier in the day, James learned that he finished fourth in MVP voting. He was the man everyone was talking about before the start of the series. He scored the first basket of the game. Then he didn't score from the floor again until the latter half of the final quarter. A long time between baskets. Meanwhile, he turned the ball over. Again and again. And he missed shots. Every kind of shot.
"Team credit," said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. "We did it good as a team. But we know he is going to try to come back and be a lot more aggressive."
LeBron's only sanctuary was the foul line. James gets more calls than any 23-year-old in the history of basketball. His head snaps back like Cosmo Kramer and the officials seem to go for it every time. He took 10 free throws in the first half and was able to induce a flagrant foul (tagged on Sam Cassell) when he should have been assessed two minutes for diving.
"He's a great player, and if there was an easy way of solving him, he wouldn't be a great player," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "There's nothing we're going to do that he hasn't seen."
Pierce, James Posey, and Ray Allen took turns on James. All had considerable success, but a lot of James's misses were shots he normally makes.
Based on early returns, we should not expect a lot of 100-point scores in this conference semifinal. This is going to be smashmouth basketball - lots of whistles, floor burns, and the jarring sounds of wayward shots clanging off rims. Winning this series is going to mean winning ugly.
The 2007-08 Cleveland Cavaliers are not the 1983-84 Los Angeles Lakers. They don't run up and down the floor. They don't have the athleticism of a college track team. They don't play Western Conference Showtime basketball.
But they have a star player who can take over a game down the stretch and the Celtics were fortunate to escape with a victory in the opener. It seems like you should win by more than 4 at home when LeBron goes 2 for 18, but the Celtics would argue that they got only 4 points from Pierce and Allen - two guys who are usually good for 35-40.
"I think we are going to watch some film tomorrow and break down the way I get the ball," said the man with the ankles in ice water. "I think one thing that helped us in the fourth quarter, we got some pick-and-rolls. Defensively, both teams were locked in. Now we just got to get ready for Game 2."
It's nice to have some NBA royalty on the visitor's bench at the New Garden. Reminds me a little of the days when Wilt Chamberlain would come to town for a seven-game set. The playoffs are more fun when there's a superhuman force working for the opponent, and we're pretty sure LeBron is going to get hot once his ankles come out of the ice water.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.