LeBron James's best game of the series was soured by a third quarter that gave the Celtics momentum and doomed the Cavaliers.
His numbers were impressive: 12 of 25 from the field, 11 of 13 from the stripe, 35 points. James chipped in three rebounds and five assists to go with the explosive production, but in the third quarter of last night's 96-89 loss, he suffered the single-digit blues.
James converted just one of his five shots in the period, accounting for 2 points as the Cavaliers were throttled by the hot-shooting (12 for 16) Celtics, 29-17. The Cavaliers shot 38.9 percent (7 of 18) from the floor and now must win Game 6 tomorrow night in Cleveland to avoid elimination in the best-of-seven second-round series.
"We start off well, but we go through a lapse on offense," James said. "Tonight it was the third quarter. They made us turn the ball over. They came down and scored, they got us on our heels, and we were down 12. You can't go down 12 on the road, especially in a place of this magnitude."
In the first half, James seemed poised to drop at least 40 on the Celtics. He scored 23 points by finding his way to the basket and beating the double team with ease, carrying the Cavaliers to a 46-43 halftime lead.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said there were few adjustments at halftime for neutralizing James.
"LeBron was getting to the paint way too much in the first," Rivers said. "He was rejecting our pick-and-roll. He's a smart player and he kept beating us the other way knowing we couldn't get our help there."
Throughout the first half, it seemed James was silencing any questions about his shooting, which had been abysmal (2 for 18, then 6 for 24) in the first two games here, both Cavaliers losses.
He scored 21 points each in Games 3 and 4 at Cleveland and handed out a total of 21 assists, earning praise for his well-rounded play.
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown was more concerned with his team's play in the third quarter last night than with failing to exploit James's production.
"Whether it was 35 or 20, it doesn't matter at this point to lose the game, especially the way we played in the third - we didn't do the things necessary defensively, and again we let their aggression rattle us," Brown said. "That's what's more disappointing than anything else. Whether he gets this or that, I'm not really concerned because he's going to contribute in other ways."
While some may consider James's numbers throughout the series subpar, Rivers said the Celtics did not regard him as struggling.
"We're going to have to win a game when LeBron plays great, and you have to know that," Rivers said.
James doesn't focus on individual numbers, either.
"I don't care how well I play offensively," he said. "If you don't win, that's all that matters to me. I'd rather play bad and shoot bad from the field and turn the ball over a couple of times and get a win. That's all it's about is getting team wins. My individual play doesn't mean anything when you lose."
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com