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Dan Shaughnessy

This game was fit for a King, but Cavaliers' James on losing end

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 19, 2008

The next round probably will be harder. We know all about the vaunted Detroit Pistons and their roster of fearless champions. Winning on the road is likely to get even tougher for the Celtics, and winning at the Garden won't be automatic.

But there is good news for the Celtics as they advance to the Eastern Conference finals. They won't have to face LeBron James again.

James rained 45 points on the heads of the Celtics in an epic Game 7 yesterday. King James played 46 minutes and 48 seconds, took 29 shots and 19 free throws. He scared the hell out of everyone who bleeds Celtic Green.

In the pantheon of great performances in losing efforts against the Celtics, LeBron's Sunday Tour De Force was worthy of anything submitted by Bob Pettit, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, or Michael Jordan. And if you're a local hoop fan over the age of 30, it was impossible to watch Paul Pierce (41 points) and LeBron duel without remembering Larry Bird vs. Dominique Wilkins, circa 1988.

"These fans finally have an opportunity to forget a little bit about what Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins did, and remember what Paul and LeBron did," said James, who was 3 years old when Larry and 'Nique matched buckets in a Game 7 in the Old Garden.

"It was very exciting to be a part of it, especially in this building," LeBron added after the 97-92 loss. "Like I said, Game 7 in the Garden, it gets no better than this. As a fan of basketball, I know so much about the history . . . this will go down in history."

Bingo. And we don't mean Bingo Smith (Look it up, young 'uns).

"That's Classic right there," said Kevin Garnett. "I look forward to seeing it on [ESPN] Classic in a couple of days."

For two weeks Boston basketball fans worried about the Celtics putting themselves in position to let James win the series by himself. Those fears were realized with a couple of minutes left in yesterday's game when the King (if he travels in a road game against the Grizzlies, do they say he's walkin' in Memphis?) picked Pierce's pocket and went the length of the floor for a tomahawk stuff. The flush cut Boston's game-long lead to 1 point (89-88) with 2:20 left. It was Game 7, it was close, and LeBron was having his way.

Fortunately the Celtics had secret weapon, P.J. Brown, in reserve, and Gramps won the game with a big rebound, a clutch jumper, and a baseline stop of LeBron in the final minute.

James's skill and will made this a seven-game series. He did not shoot well from the floor (55 of 155, 35 percent) but he did everything you can do on a basketball court. It was fun to watch. And watch is what most of the Cavaliers ended up doing on offense. It was pretty clear LeBron had no confidence in his supporting cast. In Game 7, the annoying Wally Szczerbiak threw up a doughnut (0 points from the starting shooting guard) and injured sharpshooter Daniel Gibson (shoulder) was missed.

It made you wonder what it's like at practice when Cavaliers coach Mike Brown says, "Let's run the offense." Yesterday, the offense was LeBron and only LeBron. And the Celtics made sure LeBron had to work hard for every one of his 45 points.

"I anticipated LeBron playing great," said Boston coach Doc Rivers. "Great players play great . . . Unfortunately, LeBron's not human. I thought he was getting stronger down the stretch . . . We knew we were going to have to win a game that LeBron was great in. Tonight was the night."

"This is one of the tougher, if not the toughest guys I guard," said Pierce. "He wears you out. Your body is sore. It's massages. Hot tubs. I'm just glad this series is over. There's not another player that's going to physically wear me down."

My favorite moment of this series came midway though the third quarter yesterday when LeBron and Pierce engaged in a brief, almost collegial exchange during a pause in play. Both smiled after the short conversation, then resumed carrying their respective teams in one of the great duels in Boston sports history.

It reminded me of a chat involving Pete Rose and Carlton Fisk in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The Red Sox and Reds were making history, one great play at a time - perhaps the most important baseball game of the 20th century - when Rose stepped into the batter's box at Fenway Park, turned to Fisk, and said, "This is some kind of game, isn't it."

It is the whisper of stars. It is rare. And we saw it yesterday in one of the best duels in the New, or Old, Boston Garden.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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