James scores 45, Heat tie series at 3-3
BOSTON — LeBron James didn’t just lead the way, he carried the Miami Heat with an amazing playoff performance.
James put on a one-man highlight show, scoring 30 of his 45 points in the first half to lead the Heat to a 98-79 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, sending the Eastern Conference Finals to a seventh game.
With another playoff failure waiting to be written about one of the NBA’s great player, James moved the Heat closer to fulfilling their goal of getting back to another league championship series.
“It was a must-win game for us for our season,” James said. “In an environment like this, I wanted to have a big game and make plays for my teammates.”
The deciding game will be played in Miami on Saturday night.
“He was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the way he approached it the last 48 hours. Nobody likes to have dirt thrown on your face before you’re not even dead. He was absolutely fearless and everybody followed from there.”
Wade scored 17 points, but it was James’ show.
“He played amazing,” Wade said. “He was locked in tonight from the beginning of the game like I’ve never seen him before.”
Turning the clock back to his days with Cleveland in 2007 when James scored 29 of the Cavaliers’ final 30 points, including 25 straigh, in Game 5 against Detroit, the three-time MVP carried the Heat to a victory that left many in TD Garden in awe. He also had 15 rebounds.
Rajon Rondo paced Boston with 21 points and 10 assists, and Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett each had 12 points.
“It was a matter of too much LeBron. He was absolutely sensational,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said, before later adding, “I hope you guys can stop talking about LeBron and how he doesn’t play in big games. That was put to bed.”
Miami led by 13 at the half and pushed it to 17 (59-42) after James nailed an off-balance bank shot 1:48 into the third quarter. It came after Wade hit a similar shot seconds earlier.
The Celtics looked like they were going to muster a comeback late in the quarter, closing it to 69-59 on Mickael Pietrus’ put-back of Paul Pierce’s miss, but James calmly nailed a 3 from the top of the key on the ensuing possession, regaining the momentum for the Heat.
The Heat led 74-61 after three.
Any chance of a tight finish went away early in the final quarter. James nailed a jumper from the top and Wade had consecutive baskets, making it 87-64 with 7 1/2 minutes to play.
Rivers took out Pierce and Garnett midway into the final quarter. A few minutes later – in a half-empty building – Ray Allen joined them on the bench.
It could be the final time that Boston’s Big Three plays a game together in Boston. They were only able to sit and watch as the final seconds ticked away and the nearly empty crowd chanted “Let’s Go Celtics,” hoping to bring life to a team that looked to celebrate another trip to the finals in its franchise’s storied history.
But they can only hope James doesn’t have another big night in store on Saturday.
“I don’t know,” he said, smiling. “I take every game as they come.”
The Celtics now will look to do it the hard way, winning for a second time in Miami, perhaps using the sendoff from the crowd as fuel..
“Did you hear our crowd in the last three minutes of the game?” Rivers said. “What other crowd in the NBA does that? They came tonight. We didn’t.
“Listen, it was a great performance by a great player against our defense. I think our guys should take it very personal.”
Miami, which shot 54 percent in the opening half, led 55-42 at intermission.
While James was being stretched by the trainer before the game in the locker room, the TV cameras picked up video of him reading “Hunger Games,” a book about a futuristic society.
He then went out and put on his own hungry performance in the opening half.
James scored 30 points on 12-of-14 shooting, taking on everyone the Celtics tried to throw at him defensively.
At times, he’d take the ball up top and drive the lane at three or four different defenders.
“We got to the locker room and collectively everybody talked about being better,” Allen said of the team’s mood. “There was a great sense of disappointment – anger.”
The crowd was into it at the start, heeding Pierce’s advice from a Tweet after Game 5 when he wrote, “I want the Garden, I mean the Jungle to be as loud as ever come Thursday,” but James’ performance was electrifying in the first half.
After missing his first shot, the league MVP nailed 12 straight, helping the Heat pull to a 43-29 edge midway into the second quarter. He scored 11 of Miami’s points during a 13-6 run and set up Udonis Haslem for a baseline jumper for the other points.
When Boston was making a charge, he had a one-handed put-back slam late in the half. He capped his 30-point first half with a long fadaway jumper from the right corner over Pietrus.
In the opening minutes, the teams were close until James scored eight during a 10-0 run, capping it with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, making it 22-12.
NOTES: Forward Chris Bosh came off the bench again for the Heat and played 28 minutes, scoring seven points. He had missed the entire playoffs with a lower abdominal strain before playing 14 minutes in Game 5. “I’m way more comfortable (using Bosh as a reserve),” Spoelstra said before the game. “I don’t think we’ll be able to play him his normal load, particularly at the pace and how competitive and physical this series is.” … Pierce’s next playoff game will tie him with Tom “Satch” Sanders for eighth on the club’s all-time list with 130. … Former Celtics center and Hall of Famer Robert Parish was in the stands, sending up a big roar of “Chief” from the fans when he was shown on the JumboTron. … There were also a number of Patriots on hand — owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, wide receiver Deion Branch, tight end Rob Gronkowski and nose tackle Vince Wilfork.