BOSTON – Danny Ainge needed to throw in the towel this time.
After three days rest to heal his banged-up elbow, LeBron James appeared every bit a man among boys Friday night in a Game 3 rout over Boston.
Actually, he made the Celtics look like what they are quickly becoming: old men.
King James, after appearing mortal in the first two games of the series, reverted back to himself in a pivotal road game in which Cleveland took a 2-1 lead heading into Sunday afternoon's Game 4.
The end of the first quarter read the following:
LeBron 21, Boston 17.
"I think he's healthy," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said about The King after the 124-95 thrashing that was basically over midway through the first quarter. "His elbow looked very good tonight, so enough with the elbow injury, alright?"
James made 8 of 10 shots from the field in the first 12 minutes - including all five of his free throws - and showed absolutely no lingering signs of the elbow injury that had begun to captivate the nation over the past 72 hours.
"LeBron completely set the tone and we didn't have anyone to respond to him," Rivers said.
"You knew he was going to be different, especially after the way we played in Game 2," Cleveland's Antawn Jamison said. "He's our leader and came into the game really focused."
Boston dominated the second game of the series and it got so ugly that Ainge, the Celtics boss, was taunting Cavs fans and tossed a towel into the air in an effort to distract J.J. Hickson late in the third quarter with Boston holding a 23-point advantage.
But the roles were reversed three nights later.
The Celtics were listless.
Celtics star Paul Pierce struggled for the third consecutive game in the series, finishing with a mere 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting, and Kevin Garnett pulled down just four rebounds in 30 minutes on the floor. The third member of the supposed Big Three, Ray Allen, was virtually invisible - taking just one attempt from beyond the arc and finishing with seven points.
But it wasn't necessarily the Celtics' inability to score that was the issue. It was their lack of interest in guarding anyone that was the difference.
Just like that, Cleveland regained the momentum and also the home-court advantage.
James finished with 38 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while Jamison added 20 points and a dozen boards and Shaquille O'Neal did his part with 12 points and nine rebounds.
"We knew we couldn't repeat that Game 2 performance," James said. "We would have gotten beat up a lot. We had three days to sit and feel the pressure of Game 2."
Three days to wait followed by about six minutes on the court - and then the pressure was over.
The Celtics, for the most part, quit.
They never once posed a threat to the outcome of the game. In fact, Cleveland led by at least 20 points for the entire second half.
"Defensively, we were horrible," Rivers said.
Cleveland shot 67 percent from the floor in the first quarter and 60 percent for the game.
Now it's one of those dreaded must-wins for the aging Celtics as a Mother's Day loss would put them in a 3-1 hole and having to win three consecutive games - including two in Cleveland.
When Boston evened the series at a game apiece earlier in the week, it got everyone's attention.
Maybe the Celtics could find the fountain of youth for one final magical run?
But all it came down to was LeBron playing like, well, LeBron.
If he's healthy - or even close to 100 percent - the Aging Three doesn't stand a chance.
"When he goes, we goes," Jamison said.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
James was unstoppable on Friday night in Boston, making jumper after jumper, getting to the rim at will and also, as usual, making his teammates better.
"Tonight we were just awful," Rivers said. "We didn't play with a lot of urgency, and they played with a Game 7 mentality."
The Cavs came out swinging - and Boston looked like a grizzly George Foreman, taking punch after punch without ever truly fighting back.