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BOSTON (CBS) — A lot of folks in Boston are going to spend the next two days worried about how the Celtics will play in Game 7 on Saturday night. But it’s not going to matter. Nope, not if LeBron James can play the way he did on Thursday night once again.
The man was nearly perfect, almost literally beating the Celtics all by himself. Whether he was clearing his own path by thundering toward the rim for a violent dunk, or whether he was draining jumpers while being harassed by a defender, there were stretches of Game 6 when LeBron just could not miss.
Contested 3′s, open jumpers, soft bank shots off glass – they were all falling, and each one brought with it a certain level of demoralization for the Celtics and the Boston crowd.
“When a guy comes out and throws a barrage on you like that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, “it takes some energy out of you.
“I now hope you guys can stop talking about LeBron, that he doesn’t play in big games. He was pretty good tonight. So now that’s to bed and we can go ahead and play Game 7.”
For Rivers’ sake, it really would be best for those who’ve doubted James to keep quiet. If you ask Lebron what motivates him, he’ll tell you that winning is all that matters. But in a private moment, he might tell you that watching the replay of Paul Pierce hitting a big 3-pointer right in his face for two days is something that is “The King” did not like see. Nor did he like hearing how his Heat were once again wilting under pressure and how he always seemed to come up small in the biggest moments.
And when you don’t like something, sometimes you have to take things into your own hands. That’s what James did with his 45-15-5 performance in the blowout Heat victory.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that LeBron was fearless and that his attitude was contagious, but that’s a bit inaccurate.
LeBron scored 45 points. Dwyane Wade scored 17 and no other Heat player scored in double digits.
LeBron grabbed 15 rebounds. No other Heat player had more than nine.
LeBron had five assists. He led the team.
Make no mistake: Thursday night’s win was entirely a LeBron James production. He had more 14 more points, two more rebounds and three more assists than the Celtics’ “Big Three” combined. He became just the second player ever to put up a 45-15-5 line in a playoff game, joining Wilt Chamberlain that club. And scariest of all for the Celtics was that throughout it all, James showed almost zero emotion. He was a stone-cold killer, and he carried himself with a confidence of a man who could not miss, a look we don’t nearly see as often as we should out of LeBron. The Celtics just have to hope they don’t see it again.
Shortly after the game, LeBron sat alone at his locker. While the media crowded around Chris Bosh in the cramped visitor’s locker room, LeBron sat back, relaxed and appeared satisfied with what he had just done in a hostile environment, in a place he’s failed to come through many times before.
“In an environment like this, you want to have a big game,” James later said. “It’s a great feeling when you feel like everything you put up is going in. But you can never let go. You can never let it die down.”
That is exactly what LeBron will need to do in Game 7, because if he doesn’t, his Game 6 performance will become a mere footnote in the much larger story of LeBron once again failing in the postseason. That is how this works.
Of course, LeBron feeling content and happy after Game 6 could be good news for the Celtics. If the post-Game 5 story lines are in fact what inspired that 45-point one-man show in Game 6, then what will drive him for Game 7?
That’s why we’ll tune in. Yet in terms of pregame analysis and prognostications, they’ll all be meaningless. All you need to know is that if Lebron James does that again, it’s over. And that “it” might as just well represent the NBA title, because there’s not a team on the planet that can stop what took place in Boston on Thursday night. Not the Boston Celtics, not the Oklahoma City Thunder, nobody. What took place Thursday was the greatest player in the world playing like the greatest player in the world. It was a simple dynamic at play — the Heat have the best player in this series, and when he plays to his capabilities, there’s just no way to defend it.
Of course, the Celtics can’t just sit around for 48 hours and wait to see what LeBron brings in Game 7. They’re going to do whatever they can to come out stronger, and they now have extra motivation after Lebron embarrassed them on their home court.
“We’re gonna have to play a hell of a game,” Rivers said.
That’s a given, but no matter what they do, it might not matter. LeBron can once again render all their efforts useless by repeating or even imitating his Game 6 performance.
The only thing the Celtics can do? They’ll have to hope that doesn’t happen.