MIAMI – The remarkable performance LeBron James threw at the Boston Celtics Thursday in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals was an all-timer.
But for what period of time? Decades? Or days?
No sooner had James clobbered the Celtics with 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists to grab back homecourt advantage than people began to wonder: Had James silenced the critics who kept questioning his “clutchiness” in big games? Or had he merely fended them off for another 48 hours?
In other words, what would the shelf life be for that Game 6 showing if James and his Miami Heat teammates wound up losing Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena and missing the 2012 NBA Finals anyway? Plenty of folks have opinions about that, including one hardly impartial observer.
“Listen, I think it all depends on Game 7,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said Friday in a media conference call, a travel day as the series shifted back to South Florida. “If obviously they win tomorrow, that Game 6 you’ll remember. If we win tomorrow, the Game 6 will be just another great game.”
Rivers was just being honest – he had been effusive in his praise of James’ talent, and the manner in which he seized the occasion, both after Game 6 and again Friday. Certainly he wasn’t interested in generating any silly bulletin-board material. Same with his advice to his team Thursday to “pack for a week” on the trip to Miami – it wasn’t a cocky way of predicting victory and a trip to Oklahoma City. It was simply logistics, with Boston having to fly Sunday directly to the site of the Finals opener Tuesday.
“I mean, I said it last year,” Rivers said. “He’s a great player. I don’t know what else he can do. He does the right thing. When he makes the right pass and the guy misses the shot, he’s criticized. When he forces a shot in a double team, he’s criticized. It’s the way it is for him, for whatever reason.”
Because of the big, fat numbers involved and the wonders of digital video, James’ performance will be recalled and replayed for years to come – on par with his Game 5 explosion in the 2007 East finals against Detroit, when he scored 48 in a double-overtime victory, including 29 of Cleveland’s final 30 points.
Still, in terms of real, lasting impact, the Heat may need to advance and perhaps win the Larry O’Brien trophy over the Thunder if LeBron’s big night is going to pass into legend. Merely setting an elimination 48 hours later? Meh.
It might have helped, too, if Boston had made the 98-79 blowout a more competitive game; James might have crammed a few more highlights into the closing minutes, searing his dramatics into fans’ memories.
The coach on the other side, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, left no doubt that James had put up a game to rival those by Jordan, Bird, Russell, Chamberlain and so on, regardless of round or game number.
“It was a fearless performance,” Spoelstra said. “And will probably go down as a historic playoff performance. We needed every bit and minute of it, and maybe we’ll need that again. But he’s a brilliant basketball player that will read the game and whatever we need. Maybe it’s more assists [Saturday] night, maybe it’s rebounds. Who knows. But he’ll be there [in Game 7].”