BOSTON — If your attitude is still stubbornly stuck in 2010, circa early July of that year, and you get queasy just thinking about the man and the way he left poor little Cleveland, just stop. Stop the hate and start to appreciate. Get over it, and get behind this: LeBron James just painted a da Vinci, though not quite a Jordan, to save his team from an embarrassing elimination.
Isn’t that enough? As a basketball fan, shouldn’t that be what you want to see and feel and witness? Does anything else even matter?
Shouldn’t you and others with irrational and over-the-top despise for the three-time MVP concede that basketball is better when he’s on top of his game, as he was Thursday in a do-or-death night for a Miami team everyone wants to fail?
“A great feeling,” James said.
He pieced together his best game, all things considered. All things. Yes, he has scored more points, grabbed more rebounds, made bigger shots. He did drop-kick the Pistons in an epic series several years ago. But nothing quite like this. Not under these circumstances, this kind of heat. Not with the basketball world ready to pounce and choke him for, what else, being a choker if he didn’t deliver and the Heat didn’t beat the grandfatherly Celtics.
But win they did, ever spectacularly, ever thoroughly, thanks to the “absolutely fearless” performance by James, in the words of Erik Spoelstra. The coach added: “He was ready and willing. He said, ‘whatever you need, coach.’ He was determined.”
|Players with at least 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists in NBA playoff history|
|Wilt Chamberlain||April 10, 1964||St. Louis Hawks||50||15||6||68.8|
|LeBron James||June 7, 2012||Boston Celtics||45||15||5||73.1|
James made 12 of 14 shots in the first half, an indication that it was going to be a memorable night. There was no gloating, no chest thumping, not jersey pulling, stuff that other players might’ve done to celebrate a big night, just pure focus. He hit shots from everywhere and through everyone. Didn’t matter what the Celtics did. He finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists. He carried Miami and created a Game 7 that will be much-anticipated Saturday. He kept alive the possibility of us getting the People’s NBA Finals: Thunder vs. Heat, MVP vs. MVP runner-up.
“I won’t regret Game 7,” James vowed.
While this was solid stuff from LeBron, he wasn’t quite “God disguised as LeBron James.” That was a paraphrase of the famous Larry Bird line after Michael Jordan dropped 63 on the Celtics in 1986 at the old Boston Garden. The difference was Jordan did that against five future Hall of Famers (Bird, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson) and one of the greatest teams all time. His point guard that game was Kyle Macy, and Dave Corzine was his center. He went through Johnson to get those points. LeBron mashed up an aging team that looked tired and past its bedtime.
But it’s no disrespect to slot James’ performance after Jordan’s 63. Again, with everything that was on the line Thursday for the Heat (nobody expected much from the Bulls in ’86 and they were swept by Boston in the series), James met the expectations and crushed it.
And what kind of reward does he get for that? Another elimination game 48 hours later. Another chance to win or, Lord help him, lose.
If Game 6 belonged to James, then it might be necessary for Wade to rise up in Game 7. Wade suffered through another so-so first half Thursday; he’s had a string of them in these playoffs. Maybe he was guilty of being hypnotized by what James was doing. In any event, Miami doesn’t struggle when Wade enters blazing.
“We gave him the ball and got out of the way,” Wade said, who added that James “was the most locked-in that I’ve ever seen him. When he has it going like that you feed him, but you also know they’re going to need you, too. We have to help him a lot more.”
If there was ever any doubt, though, what Game 6 proved is that it’s up to James for Miami to reach the championship round and win the trophy. He’s the one Heat player who can’t have a tough game, who must maintain a high level. He’s also the one Heat player who is over-scrutinized and picked apart, who can’t do anything right in the minds of many. Even on a night when he did everything right.
You know some folks are sneering right now, happy to bring up what happened last June against Dallas and reserving judgment until they see James in the championship round for the third time in his career.
Let’s hope he and the Heat give us that chance.