The score was frozen on the huge television screen in the Cavaliers locker room Wednesday night: Atlanta 105, Boston 97.

How ironic that 30 minutes after playing one of their best, most complete games of the season in a 122-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Cavs should learn that they'd been knocked out of the playoffs as a result of that game. The Hawks victory left the Cavs 3.5 games out of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings with three games remaining.

Eleven months and 79 games after owner Dan Gilbert won the lottery and promised the Cavs would not be returning, they will be heading back on May 20 in spite of significant progress and a 16-17 record the last three months.

"It's an empty feeling now that your chances are done,'' Cavs All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving said. "You think about things you could have done, you should have done. It's inevitable, especially as big a competitor as I am. It's definitely going to be on my mind.

"You're left with a lot of positives that we can take from it. You always want to compete for something as special as the playoffs, but our chances were snapped tonight. It's disappointing.''

The Cavs alternated between looking back and looking forward.

"More than anything, the thing that eats at me is, for the first couple of months with the transition we went through, just not being able to win a few more games,'' coach Mike Brown said as his team improved to 32-47. "You've got to play almost perfect basketball. We're not quite to that level. It puts a lot of pressure on you as the year goes along, and you just wish you have some of those games back so you could keep experiencing playing past April.''

Still, the coach sees improvement and is pleased with that.

"It's a feeling of progress,'' Brown said. "I'm excited that we were able to progress this much defensively. Hopefully, we'll keep progressing, because we've got a high ceiling in that area.