BOSTON (AP) -Unable to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers to a win, LeBron James will have to settle for a memorable performance in a loss.
James scored 45 points on 14-of-29 shooting in the Cavaliers' 97-92 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday. His teammates mustered very little, including Wally Szczerbiak, who was scoreless, but James didn't blame anyone.
``We just tried to put ourselves in a position where we could try to get back in and we did, we just didn't come through,'' James said. ``I'm not disappointed in any of my teammates or in any of my coaching staff.''
James' effort in Game 7 was overshadowed by Paul Pierce, who scored 41 points and matched him shot for shot. The battle was reminiscent of the 1988 duel between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins, who combined for 81 points during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in which Boston beat Atlanta 4-3.
``I love going against the best and Paul is one of those guys,'' James said. ``We both tried to will our team to victory and, just like Dominique Wilkins, I ended up on the short end and the Celtics won again.''
Swept by San Antonio last year in the NBA finals, the Cavaliers tried to get James the help he needed with a big move at the trade deadline.
General manager Danny Ferry acquired Delonte West and Szczerbiak from Seattle and pried Ben Wallace and Joe Smith from the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 21. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, there was marginal improvement, as they struggled to a 15-13 record over the last 28 games and never got into any rhythm because of injuries.
``What we have is very good. We need to continue to get better. We know that if that means some personnel changes need to happen, then so be it,'' James said. ``Right now I'm not thinking about it, but we do need to get better. The teams around us in this league are continuing to get better,'' including Orlando, the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit, Boston and New Orleans.
West, who scored 15 points, played well after being traded and knows James can still improve.
``The setup for his growth is unreal, him being 23 years of age, and the way he's playing,'' West said. ``The way Paul and LeBron competed today against one another, you've just seen a whole other generation of superstars battle.''
Szczerbiak, who had been traded from Boston to Seattle before the season, spoke of the loss in a subdued locker room.
``I just can't describe it,'' he said. ``We worked so hard, came so close. It's just tough.''
After struggling through the first four games, shooting 20-for-78, James finally broke through with 35 points in Game 5 in Boston and followed that with 32 in Game 6.
``When I lost four straight games in the finals, I knew I had to get extremely better,'' James said. ``Now I don't need to reinvent anything, just fine tune my game.''
He has extra time to do that now that his season is over.
``I always want to win,'' James said. ``I'm just disappointed that the season is over.''

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