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THE CELTICS, HAVING BEEN DOWN TWO GAMES TO NONE, HAD now won three straight, including a Game 5 upset in Miami that spoiled Chris Bosh's return and sent the series back to Boston. The Celtics could close things out on the parquet floor where the Heat had lost 15 of its last 16 appearances. Was this how another season of Miami hype would end?
Not so much. Not only did LeBron James lead his teammates to a 98--79 Game 6 victory for the most crucial win of their two years together, but in so doing he also created long-awaited comparisons with Michael Jordan. This was perhaps the night that proved how far James had come, how much he had learned and how committed he was to fulfilling his potential to become the best player in the world once and for all.
By the time he finally took a seat with 3:11 remaining, James's 45 points represented almost half of the Heat's output. Among his teammates only Dwyane Wade (17 points on 17 shots) would score in double figures; altogether, the non-LeBrons of Miami would shoot 18 for 50 from the field. James's 15 rebounds were more than twice as many as any Celtic. He destroyed Paul Pierce at both ends of the floor.
The ultimate team player had learned to carry his team. James had come to Miami because he wanted more help from superior teammates, but with his Game 6 breakthrough he showed that he was no longer thinking of how to incorporate others so much as he was, finally, leading their attack. "He was locked in like I've never seen him," said Wade. "The shots he was making [were] unbelievable. He really put on an MVP performance, not just scoring the ball but rebounding the ball, defensively. We just gave him the ball and got out of the way."
Back home in Game 7 the Heat trailed 82--81 with 8:49 remaining but would limit Boston to two field goals in its next 11 attempts. At the other end of the court James (11 points in the final period), Wade (nine) and Bosh (eight) scored every point for Miami in the fourth quarter. They went 10 for 17 from the field and 5 for 6 from the line. They generated all but one assist, every steal and all but three of their team's rebounds.
"What we were saying to each other [was], 'It's time. It's time,'" said James, who would finish with a typical 31 points and 12 rebounds in the 101--88 win. "Let's play our fourth-quarter defense, what we're capable of doing."
The difficulties of matching up with Kevin Garnett's length and Rajon Rondo's quickness brought out the championship mentality in the Heat. Wade's play improved against the trapping Boston defenses and, most important, James established his superiority under the most extreme pressure. Overcoming the Celtics—whose Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen had served as the model when Miami put together its own trio—readied the Heat for any challenges it would face in the upcoming NBA Finals.