The destination this time: Game 7 in Miami, with a spot in the NBA finals on the line.
James had 45 points and 15 rebounds, overwhelming the Boston Celtics and leading the Heat to a 98-79 victory Thursday night that forced a decisive game in the Eastern Conference finals.
After two days of questions about the Heat’s future and his own history, James provided his response in resounding fashion in a building where Miami had lost 15 of its previous 16 games, and where his season had twice come to an end.
“In an environment like this, you want to have a big game,” he said. “I wanted to be there for my teammates, no matter what was going on throughout the course of the game.
“This was a gut check for us, and it’s good to see we were able to bounce back after that loss, after that Game 5 loss at home.”
The inability of the NBA’s MVP to come through in the clutch was the theme of the week after the Celtics won three straight to pull even with the defending Eastern Conference champions. LeBron James took one big step toward silencing the chorus of doubters with his overwhelming performance in Game 6. As Mike Wise wrote:
Chris Bosh shook his head in disbelief. “The best I’ve seen; one of the best this league has ever seen,” he said after his teammate’s surreal night.
Pat Riley walked through the corridor of TD Garden leading to the locker rooms, nodding. “He was just so dialed in,” the Miami Heat patriarch began. “Maybe I should give him one of those old phones.”
Besieged by the most gifted player in pro basketball in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night at TD Garden, the Boston Celtics had the best ticket in the building to watch LeBron James deliver the most scintillating big-game performance of his career.
Forty-five points, 15 rebounds and five assists — and all the humiliating, in-your-eye, rock-and-fire jumpers Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo could stomach — James single-handedly swung the pendulum back to Miami for an NBA Finals-or-bust Game 7.
Hubris and the Heat 98, Old-as-Dirt Celtics 79.
The problem with one-game referendums in the NBA — Kobe Is Too Old, the Spurs are a Championship Lock and, of course, LeBron Wilts When It Matters — is there always is another game, another possession to step back and release a pretty, label-killing jump shot.
And suddenly the complacent, cocksure kids who took their talent for granted — to the point of nearly getting run off the floor by a bunch of creaky-kneed geezers reeking of menthol gel and heat rubs — just remembered a reassuring truth:
They have LeBron James and the old Celtic heads don’t.
If Game 6 was a statement game for James, Game 7 could be his closing argument. As Cindy Boren wrote:
Maybe there was something in LeBron James’s choice of reading material after all.
James, wrapping up the last installment of “The Hunger Games,” went out and, with the Miami Heat’s season teetering on the brink of apocalyptic collapse and his own reputation on the line, crushed the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“He was absolutely fearless ... and it was contagious,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The way he approached the last 48 hours, and not only LeBron, but everybody else. Nobody likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you're even dead. He showed great resolve.”
In 45 minutes of play, James had 45 of the Heat’s 98 points; in the first half, he had 30 points and he had 41 through three quarters. He finished with a 19-of-26 performance that was four points from his career best in the playoffs and had 15 rebounds and five assists. The only thing James, who got a beverage tossed on him for his trouble, didn’t do was come through in the fourth quarter.
Talk about a good job, good effort.
More NBA Finals coverage from Washington Post Sports:
James scores 45 points, leads Heat to 98-79 victory over Celtics
LeBron’s big night swings the pendulum back in the Heat’s favor
James looks for a Game 7 win, if not a 45-point game