No one can say LeBron James retreated from the moment this time.
James turned in one of the Heat’s all-time greatest postseason performances Thursday in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, scoring 45 points in Miami’s 98-79, do-or-die victory. Now, it comes down to one game for a ticket to the NBA Finals, and the Heat has home-court advantage. Game 7 of the series is Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I hope now [the media] can stop talking about [how] LeBron doesn’t play well in big games,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s to bed.”
The Heat entered Game 6 losers of 15 of its previous 16 games at TD Garden but, fueled by a virtuoso show from James, Miami took the lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Considering the circumstances, it might have been the best postseason performance of James’ career. Dwyane Wade’s 46 points against Boston in the 2010 playoffs remains the franchise postseason record.
“We’re not going to celebrate about this win,” James said. “It’s a one-game series now, and it’s in our building.”
In 2010, James and his Cleveland Cavaliers trailed 3-2 against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. James had a triple-double in the Game 6 loss but was still portrayed as wilting in the clutch. And, of course, no one will forget James’ inexplicably poor play in the 2011 NBA Finals. Not this time. James averaged a point a minute, going 19 of 26 from the field in 45 minutes. He played every minute of the first three quarters before watching from the bench in the final minutes.
“It was a matter of too much LeBron,” Rivers said.
It truly was a historic effort. James became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964 with at least 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a postseason game. Chamberlain had 50, 15 and six.
“I just wanted to try to lead my team the best I could,” said James, who also had 15 rebounds and five assists. “I’m glad we were able to get this win and force Game 7.”
Led by James’ brilliance, the Heat shot 48.7 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three-point range. The Heat led by double figures throughout the second half, and its largest lead was 25 points.
“[James] was absolutely fearless [Thursday night], and it was contagious,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “No one likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you’re even dead.”
The Heat outrebounded the Celtics 44-34, with Udonis Haslem (nine) and Wade (eight) pulling down more boards than Boston’s rebounding leader — Brandon Bass, who had seven. Boston was 1 of 14 from three-point range, and Paul Pierce had just nine points on 4-of-18 shooting. Rajon Rondo led Boston with 21 points and 10 assists but committed seven turnovers.
Once again, Wade wasn’t himself to begin the game, but once again he played well in the fourth quarter. He started the game with four points in the first half and was 1 of 6 from the field in the first quarter. But, while he might be playing with an injured knee, he still had enough left in reserve to give the Heat a boost in crunch time.
“Early on, my job was to try to make it as tough on Rondo as possible,” Wade said. “I just tried to wait for my opportunity. I missed a couple shots that I usually make in the beginning, but I stayed with it.”
Wade finished with 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting but scored eight points in the final period. Wade and James were the only players to score in double digits for the Heat, but Mario Chalmers contributed nine important points on three three-pointers. The Heat was 7 of 16 from three-pointer range, with James adding two and Shane Battier also delivering a pair.
James had 30 points in the first half, and the Heat led by 13 points to begin the third and fourth quarters. It was a postseason high for James in a first half and it matched the most by any player in a half this season. Monta Ellis of Golden State did it against Oklahoma City in February.
Wade had a hand in the Heat’s first seven points of the fourth quarter. He scored four consecutive points to begin the period and then whipped a difficult pass to Battier in the corner. Battier swished his second three-pointer of the game to give the Heat an 18-point lead.
Chalmers drained a wide-open three-pointer with 5:56 left in the third quarter to give the Heat a 15-point lead. It was Chalmers’ third three-pointer of the game, giving the Heat five three-pointers on its first 11 attempts.
James made the Heat’s sixth three-pointer less than two minutes later to put Miami ahead 72-59.
Wade, who has struggled early in first halves throughout the series, began the game 0 for 4. For the series, Wade is shooting 30 percent (7 of 23) in first quarters. Meanwhile, James was phenomenal. He had 14 points in the first quarter, shooting 6 of 7 from the field to go along with three rebounds and an assist.
He made 11 consecutive shots between misses on his first and final attempts of the half. Chris Bosh came off the bench to contribute seven points, six rebounds and three blocks in his second game back from injury.