BOSTON - LeBron James put together arguably the best postseason performance in his career, thrashing the Boston Celtics for 45 points en route to a big-time 98-79 win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night at TD Garden. Miami's victory evened up the series at 3-3, and Game 7 will be played on Saturday evening in Miami.
"He was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "The way he approached the last 48 hours, and not only LeBron, but everybody else. It wasn't end of the world. Nobody likes getting thrown dirt on your face before you're not even dead. But he showed great resolve the last day before you get to this point. And you could see it leading up to that. But he was fearless in the game, and everybody followed."
Dwyane Wade finished with 17 points for Miami, but struggled mightily for the majority of the game. Mario Chalmers scored nine, Shane Battier tallied eight points and Chris Bosh had seven points and six rebounds off the Heat bench. Miami shot 48.7 percent in the win.
"It was a must‑win game for us to continue our season," said James. "I'm happy we were able to put together a complete game for the first time this series. We were close in Game 1. We played really good in Game 1. Since then we hadn't played a complete game that we're capable of doing. So that's what I'm more excited about than anything, that we finally put a 48‑minute game together. It allowed us to win this game, a game we had to have."
Rajon Rondo had a fantastic first half, amassing 19 points, but finished the game with 21 points and 10 assists. Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass each had 12 points, Ray Allen scored 10 and Paul Pierce was nowhere to be found, scoring nine points on 4-of-18 shooting from the field and was 0-of-6 from three-point range. Boston shot 42.7 percent.
"It was tough," Pierce said about the loss. "You got an opportunity to close out the series on your home floor. For us to come out and play like the way we did, it's very tough. I mean, you've got take your hats off to them. They really had a great game. LeBron got hot, playing like a true MVP tonight. We just didn't recover."
Miami played with some fire in the first quarter, capitalized by an emphatic dunk from James to put the Heat up 8-4 early. As the often do, the Celtics kept their composure and answered with four straight points to tie the game, but Miami would again take a four-point lead, 12-8, at the first timeout with 5:29 left in the opening period. James continued his hot play in the first, and a contested three brought his point total up to 12 and gave the Heat a 22-12 lead. Rondo answered on the other end with an acrobatic layup, throwing the ball off the backboard and in and drawing the foul.
Miami didn't let off the gas pedal, keeping the Celtics at arms length, leading 26-14 entering the final minute of the frame. A pair of Rondo free throws made it a 10-point game again, and Wade missed a fading two at the buzzer to end the quarter. James scored 14 in the period for Miami. Boston made just 7-of-17 field goals and had five turnovers in the first.
Wade started the second quarter off with a quick jumper, and Miami kept the double-digit lead up for several minutes until Allen hit a corner three after a pass from Dooling, who had an open lane to the hoop but passed out last second, making it a 30-23 deficit for Boston. James proceeded to take over the game, and Miami built its biggest lead of the game, 36-23. The Heat got the lead up to 15 points, 45-30, but Boston kept plugging along and brought it back down to 10, 45-35, with 2:58 left before halftime thanks to several key buckets from Bass. James and the Heat would keep the high level of play up for the final three minutes and led 55-42 at halftime. James had 30 points and Rondo had 19 points.
Desperately in need of a big quarter, all the Celtics could muster was a 19-19 draw in the third. Boston was able to cut the lead to 10 points on two occasions, but another good quarter from James (11 points on 5 of 8 shooting) kept Miami's lead in the double-digits all throughout the period, and the Heat led 74-61 through three. Miami sealed the deal quickly in the fourth, as a 9-4 run to start the frame (with two straight baskets from Wade) put the game away. Boston pulled its starters soon after, officially conceding the victory to Miami.
"It was a matter of too much LeBron," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He was absolutely sensational. Made every shot, set the tone for their whole team. I thought he gave them comfort in the way he played tonight."
Now, instead of prepping for the NBA Finals, the Celtics have a day to prepare for Game 7.