LeBron burns Celtics in Heat rout

We thought we’d seen all the brilliant performances possible in these conference finals. Kevin Durant dropped 36 in the pivotal Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals that featured 16 straight fourth quarter points. Rajon Rondo’s 44 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds in Game 2 of the Eastern Finals was hailed as one of the all-time great performances in playoff history. And yet maybe none of those compare to the feat from one LeBron James Thursday night.

There was no stopping the shrapnel of criticism that was headed James’s way had the Heat been taken out by the Celtics Thursday. The overwhelming pressure that had been placed on the broad shoulders of James called for more than just a win. And James delivered with more than just a win as he put on a performance for the ages, going for 45 points (19-26 FGs), 15 rebounds, and 5 assists in the first 45+, 15+, and 5+ playoff game since Wilt Chamberlain’s act in 1964. This was a one man wrecking crew as James single-handedly brought the Heat to a 98-79 rout over the Boston Celtics to stave off elimination and force a Game 7.

“He was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The way he approached the last 48 hours, and not only LeBron, but everybody else. Nobody likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you’re even dead. He showed great resolve.”

LeBron’s performance was made all the more remarkable because this wasn’t just any elimination game for the Heat. This wasn’t just about a lost series for Miami. This team was facing the possibility of being blown up if they did not get it done.

“He played amazing. He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I’ve never seen him before,” Wade said.

By no means is the pressure taken off the Heat after this win. Should they fail to win it all – not just Game 7 against the Celtics at home Saturday – the criticism and disparagement of LeBron and the Heat will rain down in a way unparalleled in the history of NBA.

But Game 6 was not about that. It was LeBron, LeBron, and more LeBron. He went off for 16 first quarter points that almost matched Boston’s team total of 18 and finished with 30 at the half on an incredible 12-14 shooting. He dropped 41 by the end of the third period and played the entirety of the game up until the final three minutes when the game was already in hand.

“In an environment like this, you want to have a big game,” James said. “I wanted to be there for my teammates, no matter what was going on throughout the course of the game.

The Heat got little production outside of James, as Dwyane Wade was the only other Heat player to score in double figures with 17 points, but eight of those came in the fourth when the rout was on. It was nevertheless more than enough to overcome the awful performance from Boston, most markedly displayed from Paul Pierce’s 9 points on an atrocious 4-18 shooting. Rondo was about the only Celtic to step up going for 21 points and 10 assists.

The Heat collectively will need to step up if they want to advance to a second consecutive NBA Finals as these Celtics have clearly shown they will not go away easily. But this just happened to be a game where every statistic not associated with LeBron James was relatively meaningless

“I hope now you guys can stop talking about LeBron and he doesn’t play in big games,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He was pretty good tonight. So we can put that to bed and go play Game 7.”

He was more than just pretty good. But there is no doubt that the unmitigated talk will continue for LeBron and the Heat to get it done in big games. James was on fire for Game 6. The heat is now on him to deliver again.