Like him or not, the league MVP wasn’t ready to let his team bow out of the Eastern Conference Finals just yet. Because of LeBron James’ transcendent night that had Celtics fans heading for the exits early in the fourth quarter, the Heat took Game 6 in Boston with a 98-79 win, tying the series up at three games apiece and forcing a decisive Game 7 back in Miami. Although the Celtics didn’t help matters by coming out flat, it was LeBron’s 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and 19-for-26 shooting night that singlehandedly kept the Heat on top, never allowing Boston to close the gap or give their fans something to cheer about.
LeBron’s stats during the postseason are unquestionable, but after the Heat lost three games in a row to a Celtics team everyone perceived as being old and banged up, the world waited for him to have a truly dominant game. Up until that point, LeBron was dropping just under 30 points a night, but it still wasn’t enough because his team was losing and he wasn’t enforcing his will on anyone. We wanted to see this superstar play with fire and passion, much like Kevin Durant did during the Thunder’s remarkable four-game winning streak to take the Western Conference Finals. And after dropping Game 5 at home, it was do or die time for the Heat. So in Game 6, with all that pressure and the possibility of elimination acting as yet another oppressor to a team that constantly deals with mass criticism and often unwarranted hate, LeBron James gave us one of his marquee playoff performances to send this series back to Miami for a chance to advance to the Heat’s second straight NBA Finals. And it wasn’t as though LeBron exploded in a given quarter or made a huge run to topple the Celtics at home. The MVP’s domination was consistent and thorough all night, spread out through the course of the game, providing his team with big buckets time and again to instantly drain any momentum Boston was trying to build. The Heat took a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter, with LeBron scoring 14 of his team’s 26 points. Dwyane Wade, who has been criticized of late for his slow starts and generally uninspired play, once again had little to contribute in the first half. But LeBron covered all that up, heading into the locker room at halftime with 30 points and a 13-point lead. He was getting to the rim. He was knocking down jump shots left and right. He was draining 3-pointers. And when he gets going like that and when the jumper starts falling, he’s nearly impossible to guard. Simply put, the Celtics had no hope of containing him.
It goes without saying that LeBron got some help from his teammates. Wade (slightly) picked up his game in the second half and finished with 17 points, even if it took him 17 shots to get there. Chalmers went 3-for-3 from downtown to chip in nine, Shane Battier added eight and Chris Bosh had seven off the bench. But taking a look at this game from a statistical standpoint and from a morale standpoint, LeBron’s big night was the sole factor that kept Miami’s playoff hopes alive. The Heat once again didn’t get the kind of production the need out of Wade, Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Battier and even Chris Bosh (if the Heat want to contend for an NBA title, he’s going to have to get back to form pretty soon). But it didn’t matter because LeBron James would not allow his team to falter. It didn’t matter that the Heat had lost 15 of their last 16 games in TD Garden before Game 6. It didn’t matter that everyone was criticizing him for not playing with fire or for simply going through the motions. Because when it mattered most, LeBron let his game do the talking.
For Boston, LeBron’s prolific performance is discouraging, but what’s worse is how flat they came out in a golden opportunity to close out the series at home and avoid a dangerous elimination Game 7 in Miami. Rajon Rondo led Boston with 21 points and 10 assists, but none of the other Celtics’ starters played particularly well. Brandon Bass’ 12 was a nice addition, but Kevin Garnett also scored 12, which is significantly low for this resilient powerhouse who’s been capable of dominating Miami’s interior defense at times. Ray Allen added 10, but the most disappointing performance of the night was definitely from Paul Pierce, who finished with just nine points on an appalling 4-of-18 shooting night. Pierce has risen to the occasion in the past against LeBron, especially during the playoffs, but tonight was LeBron’s night and there was nothing Pierce or anyone else could do to stop it. The Celtics didn’t entirely let Game 6 slip through their fingers as much as LeBron James completely yanked it out of reach. A loss like this is disheartening, but don’t write Boston off just yet; outbreaks of “Let’s go, Celtics” chants at the end of the game might be just the thing they needed to keep their heads after such a convincing defeat. Those chance seemed pointless to the rest of the world, but for Boston, they showed just how much faith the fans have in their team and that can mean the difference on the road. However, if LeBron plays anything like he did in Game 6, or if he finally gets some help from Wade and the rest of his supporting cast, the Celtics stand no chance.