LeBron James pulled his right arm tightly to his chest, unable to do anything but grimace as the final seconds expired on Cleveland’s series-clinching win.
The Bulls were finally out of the way.
But for the Cavaliers, moving on in the NBA playoffs wasn’t pain free.
James, playing despite an injured right elbow that went numb and forced him to shoot a free throw lefthanded in the closing seconds, just missed a triple-double as the Cavs advanced to a playoff date with the Celtics by beating Chicago, 96-94, in Game 5 last night in Cleveland in perhaps Vinny Del Negro’s final game as Bulls coach.
James scored 19 points — 16 in the second half — and added 10 rebounds and 9 assists as the Cavs finally saddled the stubborn Bulls to win the series, 4-1. After making one free throw, James then hoisted and missed the second with his left hand with 7.8 seconds left and the Cavs only ahead by 4 points.
James doesn’t know when he injured the elbow, which he said bothered him the entire second half. He revealed after the game he underwent an MRI and X-rays two days ago.
“It bothers me because I don’t know what it is,’’ James said. “Hopefully it doesn’t continue to bother me. But I’m not concerned. Cleveland fans have nothing to worry about. They have no reason to panic. I don’t think it’s that serious.’’
Antawn Jamison scored 25 points and Shaquille O’Neal 14 for Cleveland, which will face Boston in Game 1 Saturday at Cleveland.
Lakers 111, Thunder 87 — Pau Gasol had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Andrew Bynum added 21 points, and the Lakers vigorously rebounded from back-to-back losses by blowing out Oklahoma City at Los Angeles to take a 3-2 lead in their series.
Kobe Bryant had 13 points and seven assists in three quarters of work as the defending NBA champions coolly shook off the eighth-seeded Thunder’s series-tying blowout win in Game 4 with a comprehensive thrashing of the postseason newcomers.
With their offense purring and their defense throttling Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Lakers led by 21 points at halftime and went ahead by 32 late in the third quarter.
Game 6 is Friday night in Oklahoma City, where the top-seeded Lakers will attempt to reach the Western Conference semis for the third straight year.
Durant scored 17 points and Westbrook had 15 on combined 9-for-27 shooting for Oklahoma City, which never recovered after missing its first 13 shots.
Mavericks 103, Spurs 81 — Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood gave host Dallas the energy, toughness, and scoring it needed — everything the Mavericks expected when they traded for them a few months ago.
Butler scored a career playoff-best 35 points and had 11 rebounds, and Haywood provided a strong inside presence at both ends in his first start of this postseason, keeping the Mavericks alive by leading them over San Antonio in Game 5 of their series.
The Spurs were outplayed most of the first half, but trailed by only 7 at halftime. Dallas didn’t let them hang around much longer.
Butler had a layup and a pair of free throws during a 10-0 flurry to open the third quarter. After San Antonio finally answered, Butler came back with a 3-pointer with Tim Duncan charging at him. Soon after, Butler drove right at Duncan; San Antonio’s big man got a piece of the ball, but it caromed off the backboard and into the net anyway.
The Spurs still lead the series, 3-2, giving the veteran club two more chances to get into the second round. Only eight teams have ever blown a 3-1 lead.