Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Down with the King

“Good night! Can’t grab a f***ing rebound. Allen is hot. Pierce is into it. Sloppy. No chance. No heart. No mental toughness. They can all go to hell.”

Such was the “breaking point” moment for CST contributor Froms during last night’s Cavs-Celts Game 5 apocalypse. Froms sent me the above staccato, outrage-fueled text message mere moments after Ray Allen sunk a three-ball near the beginning of the third quarter, when Boston outhustled the lethargic Cavs two possessions in a row to balloon its manageable six-point halftime lead to a seemingly insurmountable 12. At that instant, LeBron James and the Cavs seemed as broken as my melodramatic, text-abusing friend.

What a strange trip this post-season has been. Over my last 20-plus years of Cleveland sports fandom, I’ve seen many inexplicable sights, both good and ill, and have shushed the emotional slalom from its energizing heights to its bone breaking valleys.

Never have I felt such abject dislike for a Cleveland playoff team as I do these Cavs right now. While this fanbase has witnessed its well-documented share of sports disasters, those sickening moments were never due to lack of effort. There is no excuse for the bizarre passivity this team is displaying.

What I saw yesterday – and to some extent throughout these playoffs – is nothing short of mystifying. I have no idea where this roster’s collective head is at. Is it floating in the stratosphere with LeBron James, whose signature Game 3 performance just five days ago now seems like a sweet dream?

LeBron-related rumors of varying paranoia and lunacy are making the rounds on the off day: Local sports blabber Les Levine opined that #23 needs Tommy John-style ligament surgery on his elbow, which would shelve him for the entirety of next year. Message board chatter includes allegations that LeBron is on some kind of talent sapping pain medication, or tanking it on purpose in order to grease the skids of out of C-town, or that he’s otherwise distracted by the champagne wishes and caviar dreams of impending free agency.

Crackpot maunderings aside, there’s certainly something going on with the guy that’s made him a bystander during crucial points of this series. But if LeBron’s elbow is indeed troubling him, then where did that dynamic Game 3 performance come from?

I understand the man is not some basketball cyborg incapable of a bad game. If anything, Cleveland fans have been spoiled by Lebron’s greatness and perhaps unfairly expect a near triple double every time he laces up. LeBron said it himself during last night’s post-game presser: “When you have three bad games in seven years, it's easy to point them out.”

But one underperforming playoff game is not what this is about. No, this is LeBron at least giving the appearance of not giving a damn in what could be called, without hyperbole, the most critical playoff series in franchise history.

Is it his elbow, is it the Celtics’ admittedly stout defense, is it frustration toward Mike Brown’s questionable player rotations and an unhelpful supporting cast? I don’t know, but what we saw last night defied the logic of 600-plus games watching this kid tear up the league:

A tentative LeBron standing motionless on the wing while Anthony Parker or Andy Varejao clomped around the key trying to create their own shots; a timid LeBron deferring again and again even as Boston took control of the game; an impatient LeBron hoisting truly awful looking 20-foot jumpers that clanked off the side of the rim.

Coach Brown, LeBron’s teammates (see Williams, Mo) and a resilient Boston squad are all reasons why Cleveland’s starting down the barrel of elimination today. Still, if the crude saying about “shit rolling downhill” is correct, then that particular ball of excrement was given its first nudge by the King himself.