Miami 98, at Boston 79 (Series tied, 3-3)
Offensive Ratings: Miami 116.4, Boston 91.6
This game won't end the talk that LeBron James can't perform in the clutch. There might never be a game than can do that.
But tonight should quiet some of his doubters. More importantly, his play ensures a Game 7--an even bigger opportunity to silence those pesky detractors.
LeBron (45 points on 19-of-26 shooting, 15 rebounds and five assists) was an other-worldly scorer, excellent rebounder and quality passer tonight. Among the many ways to place those numbers into historical context, this is the one I think was most essential tonight:
LeBron's 19 field-goals were his most in three years and tied for second-most in any of his games.
For nearly the entire game, LeBron was in command and looking for his own shot. The deferential LeBron that had appeared at times during the grand experiment in Miami was nearly nowhere to be found. I say nearly because of a 4:34 stretch in the middle of the first half.
In the game's first 10 minutes, LeBron scored 14 points by making 6-of-7 attempts. But immediately following, LeBron went nine straight possessions without shooting. That's when Erik Spoelstra made a clever adjustment, giving LeBron more playing time with neither Mario Chalmers nor Norris Cole.
Entering Game 6, LeBron had played 3.9 percent of his minutes as a de facto point guard. In Game 7, he played 16.9 percent of his minutes with neither of the Heat's two point guards.
Without Chalmers and Cole, LeBron became the clear and primary ball-handler and that suited his aggressiveness. It might be a chicken-or-the-egg argument--did LeBron make more shots because he had the ball more, or did he call for the ball more because he was making shots?--but the positive results were undeniable.
As soon as Chris Bosh entered the game for Cole in the second quarter, LeBron's shot-less run ended, and he made jumpers on the Heat's next two possessions. LeBron sans point guard didn't stop there.
In the 7:34 he played with neither Chalmers nor Cole, LeBron shot 7-of-8 and got to the free throw line twice and Miami outscored Boston, 19-8.
It didn't matter that the Heat scored just five fast-break points, the type of low total that would've crippled the team's offense in other games. With LeBron charging to the rim, confidently pulling up for three-pointers and finding quality shots between, Miami's offense excelled.
For three quarters, the Heat's scoring came with little direct boost from Dwyane Wade. He took several bad shots, though many were ones he's capable of making, and made 2-of-10 attempts. In the fourth quarter, Wade scored eight points and got going a bit.
Throughout, though, Wade defended well (three steals) and helped on the glass (eight rebounds) and with ball movement (four assists). Those periphery contributions from Wade are key for the Heat on night's he's not scoring .
Bosh (seven points and six rebounds in 28 minutes) also had a fine, though far from overwhelming, game. He finished +16, which should put to rest the idea that Bosh's -12 in Game 5 clearly holds significant meaning.
Tonight, Bosh played 22 of his 28 minutes with LeBron and Wade (78.6 percent). In Game 5, Bosh played six of his 14 minutes with LeBron and Wade (42.9 percent). In those six minutes, Bosh was +0, so all his -12 came without at least one of those players on the floor.
Bosh and the Heat play better when two of the best players in the world are also on the floor. Who would have thought?
LeBron, Wade and Bosh aren't some unstoppable force together, but they're closer than they've been in weeks.
Speaking of Big Threes, Boston's (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen) looked listless. Tom Haberstroh put it perfectly:
LeBron James 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists. Boston's Big Three: 31 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists.
Rajon Rondo (21 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals) was the Celtics' best player, but he also had seven turnovers. Though all his turnovers came from aggressively making plays toward the basket, when none of his teammates play at a high level, there's little redeeming value in those types of plays.
The Heat must still conquer the demons of a big game come Saturday, and Boston played far below Miami's level tonight. Still, Game 7 will be a whole new ballgame.
Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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