INDEPENDENCE, Ohio - As a nation of critics dissected his rare poor playoff game, questioning his effort, digging for deeper clues about his future, and wondering if he has what it takes to win an NBA championship, LeBron James worked on his jumper.
As panic spread through the region, swallowing his nearby hometown of Akron and causing further damage to Cleveland's badly damaged sports psyche, James exuded calm.
There's nothing he can do about Game 5. It's history.
Game 6 in Boston, however, is a chance for redemption and James believes Cavaliers fans should be confident.
"They got me," he said.
But which one? The league's two-time MVP? Or the guy who made 1 of 11 shots from the outside, stood around passively on offense as the Celtics pulled away to take a 3-2 series lead, and then raised eyebrows afterward by not being accountable and saying, "I spoil a lot of people with my play."
One day after scoring 15 points in the 120-88 loss - the Cavaliers' worst in playoff history - and being booed by fans who wonder if they'll ever see him play in person again, James, who can leave Cleveland as a free agent on July 1, said he and his teammates understand their season, the one that was supposed to end with a downtown parade, is on the brink.
"It's win or go home at this point," he said. "All these guys understand what's at stake and we look forward to it."
Backed up against a wall, both literally and figuratively, James spent nearly 12 minutes after practice
yesterday answering questions from a media throng about the health of his injured elbow; outside criticism directed at Cavaliers coach Mike Brown; his legacy; and postgame comments by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that his all-star laden team isn't fulfilling high expectations.
And for the first time, James referred to his elbow injury as "an issue I'll deal with in the offseason."
James was in a better mood than after Game 5, when he was somewhat somber and spoke with a sense of resignation that he had done all he could. He engaged in a competitive shooting game - at the basket closest to the TV cameras - with teammates before talking to reporters.
His tone and body language on and off the floor in Game 5 were puzzling for Clevelanders, who have rarely seen him in anything but in assault-the-rim mode. James never got into the flow.
He attempted just four shots in the first half, didn't make his first field goal until late in the third quarter, and was essentially a non-factor in the Cavs' biggest game this season.
It was shocking. For everyone.
James, though, chalked it up to an "off" shooting night and was dismissive about being disheartened by his effort.
James said his cool postgame disposition was nothing new. He wasn't going to bang the table or yell and scream. That wouldn't be him. But that doesn't mean he isn't mad about being one loss from elimination and missing his best chance at his first title.
"It's just who I am," he said. "I'm not going to show you that I'm angry. If I show a sense of panic, guys follow my lead. If I come over here and panic and say, 'We lost by 30 and we don't know what to do.' That's not right. It's not who I am. It's never been who I am."41.3764 -81.64001 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section Pro!
As a nation of critics dissected his rare poor playoff game, questioning his effort, digging for deeper clues about his future, and wondering if he has what it takes to win an NBA championship, LeBron James worked on his jumper.