LeBron James made sure there wasn’t going to be another fourth-quarter meltdown on his part. He flexed his muscles and put the Miami Heat on his broad shoulders in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals and put on a performance for the ages.
James took apart the vaunted Boston Celtics defense for 45 points Thursday night, making a mind-boggling 19-for-26 from the field. You couldn’t come up with those type of numbers at a party bingo. He had the entire repertoire working: short jumpers, long jumpers, fadeaways, dribble drives, follow-up dunks, off-balance bank shots, and one-hand floaters in the paint. He also grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out five assists.
The last time — actually, the only time — those numbers appeared in the box score of a NBA playoff game was in 1964 when Wilt Chamberlain posted 50-15-6. Any time you bring up Wilt into the discussion you know you did something really special, and LeBron was absolutely special at TD Garden Arena Thursday night.
”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.”
James’ on-court brilliance allowed the Heat to stave off elimination and send the series to a Game 7 in Miami, a winner-take-all grudge match with a spot in the NBA Finals at stake. For the Heat to knock out the Celtics James will need another “fearless” performance.
”I hope now you guys can stop talking about LeBron and he doesn’t play in big games,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ”He was pretty good tonight. So we can put that to bed and go play Game 7.”
All summer long James was the butt of all jokes for his fourth-quarter failures in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. He spent the entire offseason absorbing low blows from writers, bloggers, TV analysts, and his peers. Even though James shrugs off all the criticism publicly, you know he was chomping at the bit to prove everyone wrong. Even though Game 6 in the East finals is not the NBA Finals and the Heat still has some work to do Saturday night against a very game Boston bunch, it was a huge step toward the rehabilitation of his shattered image.
”He played amazing. He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I’ve never seen him before,” said James’ teammate and good friend Dwyane Wade, who had 17 points in Miami’s 98-79 win in Game 6.
“The shots that he was making was just unbelievable,” Wade continued. “He really put on an MVP performance. Not just scoring the ball, rebounding the ball, defensively, he did it all. It was great to see him come out and lead this team the way he did.
“We just gave him the ball and got out of the way.”
LeBron was trending worldwide on Twitter and Facebook and everyone, including NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders, had something to say about the three-time NBA MVP. Sanders tweeted: “If anybody doubted who is the NBA MVP is LeBron is showing us why. Start appreciating the skill set and stop hating.”
James called the game a “gut check” for the Heat after squandering home-court advantage with the loss in Game 5. James took it upon himself to pull the Heat together and send a powerful message to the Celtics.
“I just try to lead my team the best way I could. Whatever I needed to do on the floor I just to be there for them tonight,” James told ESPN’s Doris Burke. “I just do what I’ve been taught, which is play at a high level and have fun with it and at the end of the day I won’t regret anything. If I played hard and gave it my all I won’t regret anything.”
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.