LeBron James, obviously motivated by his team’s shocking loss in Miami on Tuesday, answered the call by hitting for 45 points (30 in the first half) to propel the visiting Miami Heat to a 98-79 victory over the Boston Celtics last night.
In citing that humiliating home loss from earlier in the week, James summed up the Heat’s steely performance succinctly and directly.
“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,” James said.
As to his own contributions, he added “In an environment like this, you want to have a big game … I wanted to be there for my teammates, no matter what was going on throughout the course of the game.”
For the eleventh time in his career, James scored more than 40 points in a playoff game, which is second among active NBA players. His first-half domination of the Celtics, where he hit 12 of Miami’s 21 field goals, helped to keep the Celtics behind by double-digits early – a cushion the Heat never relinquished.
Boston’s Paul Pierce, scoring a very un-Piercelike nine points, continues to fight through a knee injury and could never find his range last night – hitting only 4 of 18 shots from the field all evening, while going an abysmal 0-6 from three-point land.
In fact, the team as a whole only hit 7% (1-14) from behind the arc, which made their own basket seem smaller than the cup on the 18th green of Augusta National. Although Rajon Rondo turned in another admirable offensive performance for the Celtics – gaining another double-double with 21 points and 10 assists, he also committed seven turnovers. And overall, the Celtics’ 13 turnovers directly resulted in 16 Heat points. Miami also hit the offensive boards hard in earning 11 second-chance points.
The Celtics also lost the battle of the boards to the Heat, 44-34, where once again, James led both squads with 15 off the glass. Dwyane Wade, though he had a highly respectable 17 points (including three of four 3-point attempts), eight rebounds and three steals, was merely a bit player compared to leading-man James, who like Charles Atlas, carried the Heat on his shoulders in becoming only the second player ever (the legendary Wilt Chamberlain being the other) to notch 45 points and 15 rebounds in a playoff game. And in hitting 12 of his first 14 shots, James put on a clinic of athleticism – striking virtually at will from a variety of locations – and bodily contortions – with degrees of difficulty that would confound an Olympic gymnast.
James’ heroics didn’t go unnoticed. Following the contest, Wade was effusive in his praise of James’ effort.
“He played amazing. He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I’ve never seen him before … the shots he was making were unbelievable,” Wade said. Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra added, “He was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious.”
Boston now has the dubious task of returning to the American Airlines Arena in Miami, where they have won only two of their last eight playoff games against the Heat.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers stoically summed up Boston’s Game 7 challenge.
“Now we get to play for all the marbles. This team has not done it the easy way this year. Maybe this is justified for us, go in there and do it," Rivers said after Game 6.
And Rivers and his “big three” know well how hard playoff series wins are to come by, as over the last five seasons, the Celtics are only 11-14 in series close-out games. So when Boston’s veteran trio steps out on the floor in the Heat’s house on Saturday night, they will be looking not only to defy the past, but to write yet another prologue in what has been a remarkable narrative in Boston sports.