Boston. A red-hot night from LeBron James fired the Miami Heat to a crushing 98-79 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday, sending the NBA Eastern Conference Final series to a decisive seventh game.
The series, now tied at 3-3, climaxes in Miami on Saturday when the Heat will be favoured to take the clincher on their home court and set up a finals series against the Oklahoma Thunder, who knocked off San Antonio in the West.
James scored 45 points, close to half his team’s tally, and added 15 rebounds —13 of them defensive — with five assists in a dominant performance.
“I felt like I was aggressive from the opening tip, and the guys kept trying to find me,” said James. “As long as I was on the court I wanted to make plays, offensively and defensively, to help our team win.”
James, the league’s Most Valuable Player, made 19 of 26 field goal attempts and also hit two three-point shots. “You want to keep feeding him, keep feeding him,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. “He was absolutely fearless tonight and it was contagious.”
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra praised his team for their resilience after Tuesday’s loss. “Nobody likes to get dirt thrown on your face when you are not even dead,” he said. Thirty of James’ points came in the first half (a playoff high for him) as he helped Miami build a double-digit lead which they hold it for most of the game.
James scored 40 or more points in a playoff game for the tenth time, but it was the first time since he joined the Heat from Cleveland two seasons ago.
“It’s a great feeling when you feel like everything you put up is going in,” he said. Boston coach Doc Rivers conceded James’s performance had been outstanding but thought his defense should have marshalled him better.
“He was sensational and set the tone for their whole team. He made a lot of tough shots,” he said. “But I still don’t think we guarded him with the force we needed to.” The recently out of form Wade chipped in with 17 points, including 11 in the second half.
Boston were forced to press as they chased the game and committed a number of unforced errors. “We clearly didn’t have the right energy. You never know why,” said Rivers.
Guard Rajon Rondo lead the Celtics with 21 points and 10 assists, while Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett each had 12 points, but Boston were out-hustled by a keyed-up Miami team with their season on the line.
Thwarted by aggressive Miami defense inside, the home team tried to attack from long range but shot a miserable one of 14 three-point attempts. “I didn’t like the way we played offensively. We have to trust the pass. We didn’t do that tonight,” said Rivers.
“The good news is, we get to do it again. The bad news is, we have to do it on the road.” Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who had urged Boston fans to come to the stadium prepared to make noise, made little himself with just four of 18 attempted field goals.
Looking ahead to Game Seven, Spoelstra expected another big game from his major weapon and James seemed happy to provide. “I won’t regret Game Seven — win lose or draw,” he said.
“I’ll go in with the mindset I’ve had this whole season, and we’ll see what happens.”