CLEVELAND, May 12 – The Boston Celtics shocked the Cleveland Cavaliers 120-88 Tuesday to put the NBA's best regular-season team and superstar LeBron James on the brink of postseason elimination.Ray Allen scored 25 points and Rajon Rondo scored all of his 16 in the second half as Boston, once thought too old to challenge for another title, routed NBA Most Valuable Player James and his Cavs on their home floor.
The Celtics took a 3-2 led in the best-of-seven series, and can knock out Cleveland and reach the Eastern Conference finals with a victory in game six in Boston on Thursday.
Paul Pierce added 21 points and Kevin Garnett 18 for Boston, who dealt Cleveland their worst postseason home defeat ever.
The winner of the series next faces Orlando, who reached the conference finals with a four-game sweep of Atlanta.
Garnett said it was imperative that the Celtics close out the series in Boston and not have to play a game seven in Cleveland.
"We cannot come back here," he said. "We have to think this is our game seven coming up. We cannot afford to have the best team in the league have a game seven on their floor."
James, who earned MVP honors for the second straight season, scored 15 points on dismal 3-of-14 shooting.
James has been nursing a strained elbow, but Cavs coach Mike Brown put James’ struggles down to "an off night".
"It is unlike him," Brown said. "He had an off night tonight which is abnormal. He brings it for us almost every night. He tried to bring it tonight, but it was an off night. He’ll be ready to go in game six."
James missed his first seven shots before a dunk with 6:15 left in the third.
"Of course the defense had a little bit to do with it," James said. "I just missed a lot of shots. I missed a lot of open shots that I’m capable of making … I wasn’t able to knock down those shots that I was able to get some good looks at."
He came out of the game with 3:58 remaining and Boston up by 27 points. He could only shrug at teammate Shaquille O’Neal, who scored 21 points.
For shell-shocked Cavs fans the disappointment was made worse by the fear that – unless Cleveland force game seven – they could have been seeing James’ last home game as a Cavalier.
He is expected to be a highly sought-after free agent after the season and an early playoff exit could push him to make a move.
James refused to concede the Cavaliers might have played their last home contest of the season.
"I didn’t even think about that," he said.
Nor did he begrudge the boos from Cavaliers fans.
"That’s not a big thing," he said. "We played awful."
Rondo – coming off a brilliant game four triple-double of 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists – was held without a point in the first half as the Cavs focused their defense on him.
He finally broke out in the third quarter, scoring 12 points as Boston took a 21-point lead.
Prior to the game, Boston coach Doc Rivers said his team wouldn’t change their tactics.
"We are who we are," Rivers said. "We don’t need anyone to play hero basketball. We have to be a team. We’re good when we’re a team."
After the game, Rivers said the Celtics couldn’t afford to get ahead of themselves.
"We’ve done nothing," he said. "We’ve won three games but we’ve got to win four."