BOSTON — The Boston Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals with a 94-85 victory over Cleveland in Game 6 on Thursday night, sending LeBron James and the Cavaliers into an early off-season destined to define the future of the franchise — and the rest of the NBA, too.
The LeBron watch began at 10:53 p.m., when Rajon Rondo dribbled out the last 14 seconds and the Celtics began celebrating. James is eligible to opt out of his contract this summer, a move that would make the two-time MVP — and zero-time NBA champion — a free agent and set off a scramble for his services from New York to Miami to Los Angeles and, of course, back in Cleveland.
Kevin Garnett scored 22 points and added 12 rebounds, and Rondo had 21 points and 12 assists for Boston, which will open the conference finals in Orlando on Sunday. The Magic are 8-0 in the playoffs after sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks in the opening rounds.
James had a triple-double, scoring 27 points and had 10 assists and a career playoff-high 19 rebounds. He also had nine turnovers.
"Well we know their team is fueled by one guy," Garnett said. "If we could somehow, some way, control the supporting cast we had a chance."
"I just told him, 'Keep your head up, man. I've been there,'" said Garnett, who toiled as a star without a title in Minnesota for more than a decade before winning one with Boston in 2008. "You have a very, very, very bright future. Continue to work and make decisions based on you and your family. Best advice I can give him."
Mo Williams scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half for the Cavaliers, who won an NBA-best 61 games in the regular season to earn a home-court advantage they never got to use.
Paul Pierce scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half after playing just nine minutes — and shooting 1-for-5 — in the first with foul trouble. The Celtics had missed their first eight three-point attempts when Pierce hit a three that gave them a 65-58 lead with 4:06 left in the third.
It was 67-61 when Rasheed Wallace hit a three-pointer, and then Ray Allen stole James' pass and got the ball to Pierce for another three that completed a 16-4 run.
James hadn't made an outside shot before hitting back-to-back three-pointers to cut it to four points, 78-74, early in the fourth quarter. But Rondo drove for a layup, then set Pierce up for another three.
Pierce found Wallace for a three-pointer and then Tony Allen's steal led to a Garnett dunk at the other end that sent the Cavaliers into a timeout to regroup, down 88-74 with 5:53 left in their season.
Heat go all out for Wade
Send dessert to Dwyane Wade's table or start a standing ovation. Don't ask for a car or display your D-Wade tattoo.
These, and other tips for Miami Heat fans, are now available on a website — www.wewantwade.com — unveiled Thursday by the team with hopes of keeping the 2006 NBA finals MVP in South Florida for years to come.
"We want to show Wade the love," the website says.
Wade learned of the Heat's web campaign Thursday morning, shortly after the team's marketing department launched the new site — which was already getting posts from fans within a few minutes of going live.
"I thought it was hilarious," Wade said. "But I appreciate it. I do, I really do."
The former league scoring champion will exercise his right to become a free agent, and he'll be clear to talk with other teams at 12:01 a.m. July 1.
Surgery for Azubuike
Warriors guard Kelenna Azubuike underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, needed because of his patella tendinitis condition.
The surgery was performed Wednesday in Phoenix by Dr. Tom Carter, who also performed an operation on Azubuike's left knee in November to repair a torn patellar tendon.
He will have to use crutches for about a week before starting rehabilitation. On May 4, the 26-year-old former Kentucky player exercised the player option in his contract for the 2010-11 season.
He appeared in only nine games this season, averaging 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds a game before he was sidelined because of the left knee injury.