BOSTON, MA - JUNE 07: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat stands on court against the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 7, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Go right ahead and make fun of LeBron James all you want. Call him a choker, or a quitter. Yet when LeBron is on top of his game, there's no doubt that he is the greatest basketball player on the planet, a fact he proved again on Thursday night.
Go ahead and have your fun. You can call LeBron James a choker. You can get on him because he hasn't won or for his poor decisions. At the end of the day, though, LeBron can burn you. When he's on, there's no question: he is the best basketball player in the world.
James reminded us all why he received his third Most Valuable Player award this season in Thursday night's Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, torching the Boston Celtics for 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting and 15 rebounds in the Miami Heat's big-time 98-79 win that evened the series at 3-3 heading into Game 7 on Saturday.
Most of LeBron's damage came in the first half, when he equaled his entire Game 5 output in 24 minutes, scoring 30 points. James had 11 points in the third quarter and just four points in the fourth, but the damage had already been done and the victory was already well in hand for Miami.
Sure, LeBron has had bigger statistical outputs, but given the scenario -- the Heat on the brink elimination in a very hostile environment -- this was by far the most impressive of his Heat tenure.
"He played amazing," said Dwyane Wade, who said James' Game 6 performance was the best he has seen since the two joined forces last season. "He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I've never seen him before. The shots he was making was unbelievable. So he really put on an MVP performance tonight. Not just scoring the ball, but rebounding the ball, defensively. He did it all tonight. ... It was great to see him come out and lead this team the way he did today. We just gave him the ball and got out the way. He made us look good early on. We were able to do things to help him in the ballgame. Defensively, rebounding the ball, and make timely shots."
James nearly single-handedly outscored the Celtics in the first quarter, putting up 14 points to Boston's 16, and always seemed to have an answer for every rally that the Celts could muster.
"He was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Aside from James, Wade was the only Heat player to score more than 10 points (he finished with 17), and James only had five assists. Yet in this instance, James' selfishness was for the betterment of the team. Still, LeBron took the humble route and put the success of the team above himself when asked if he believed that his performance was his best postseason showing ever.
"I don't know. I don't know. I haven't watched the film or anything like that," James said. "I just tried to make plays for our team throughout the whole game, as long as I was on the court I wanted to make plays, both offensively and defensively, to give ourselves a chance to win. I think I did that."
That he did, to the point where his effort alone was enough to completely overwhelm the Celtics.
"It was a matter of too much LeBron," Doc Rivers said. "He was absolutely sensational. Made every shot, set the tone for their whole team. He gave them comfort in the way he played tonight."
Naturally, LeBron's domination was a topic of conversation in all of the postgame media sessions, and his game drew high praise from other stars, particularly Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
"LeBron got hot, playin' like a true MVP tonight," Pierce said. "He hit a lot of shots that he hasn't been hitting all series. Sometimes superstars get hot. I've had that feeling before and sometimes there's nothing you can do about it."
"LB was in the groove and he never looked back," echoed Garnett.
Thanks to LeBron's commanding evening, the Heat have new life, and as a result, the outcome of the series will be decided on Miami's home court. It may take another monumental game from LeBron to win the series, or Wade may finally step up and carry the Heat as he has so often in the past. And there's always the possibility of a Heat loss.
Whatever happens, though, LeBron won't look back. He plans to leave it all out on the floor.
"I won't regret Game 7," a confident James said. "Win, lose or draw, I'm going to go in with the mindset like I've had this whole season. And we'll see what happens."