BOSTON -- This was the Heat team that has spent the past two seasons living with the heaviest burden in all of American sports, the relentless pressure of utmost expectations much of it self-imposed as well as the ill wishes of a nation eager to revel in Miamis failure.
This was the player, LeBron James, who more than anyone has dealt with the bitter brunt of all that.
And this was the night and the place that this team and this player would rise above it all or be crushed.
Well, the cream rose.
And with it, the dream.
In a basketball arena that was a cauldron of hatred toward James on Thursday night, the NBAs MVP was big enough and strong enough to lift a city 1,500 miles away, and to carry his team all the way back home still alive, still chasing a championship.
Were not going to celebrate this win, James said afterward. Its a one-game series now.
That would be Game 7 in Miami Saturday night, with the winner advancing to the NBA Finals to face Oklahoma City.
James would score 45 points Thursday 30 in an almost surreally dominant first half in the season-saving 98-79 triumph over the Boston Celtics that muted a torrent of vitriol. For a night, he was King James by decree more than just nickname. At one point, as the Celtics called a timeout to stem his assault, James stood and stared stone-faced up into the angry noise, betraying no emotion.
For a long time, he just stared, drinking it in, like water, or oxygen. And he wasnt blinking. Not right then. Not on this night.
After the game James sat in the visitors cramped locker room with both feet in an ice bucket and both knees bound by basketball-sized ice wraps. He ate a banana, that same neutral gaze upon his face.
He had earned the rest.
James points came on sharp 19-for-26 shooting, and he added 14 rebounds, the punctuation (thus far) on the most extraordinary individual season Miami has witnessed from one of its sports stars since Dan Marinos record-setting 1984 for the Dolphins.
If outstanding is the sum of pressure times performance, James in-the-clutch Game 6 Thursday earned a piece of South Florida sports history. It was one of the most enormous shows I have witnessed in half a lifetime doing this, by a player who is the best on earth at what he does.
He was fearless tonight, and it was contagious, said coach Erik Spoelstra of James.
Marino never did taste a championship in Miami, of course.
James still might, thanks to, well, thanks to himself.
Now all the Heat has to do is do it again in Saturdays Game 7 back home. And then keep doing it in the NBA Finals. Thats all.
This is the team that is not allowed to fail, led by the player who isnt allowed to, either.
Were a no-excuse team, Spoelstra likes to say.
None asked. None abided.
James deflected credit afterward, saying, This was a gut-check for us. We finally played a complete, 48-minuite game together.
The night was LeBrons, though. Dwyane Wade had the best seat in the house.
Yes, said Wade flatly when asked if this was the best he has seen James play. He was locked in like Ive never seen. We just gave him the ball and got out the way. You didnt have to tell him [it was his night]. This is not last year.