|Fast Break: Heat, James LeBlow out Celtics in Game 6||06.07.12 at 11:10 pm ET|
LeBron James submitted perhaps his greatest game as a professional — his most clutch, anyway — amassing 45 points (19-26 FG) to go along with 15 rebounds and five assists, breaking even a raucous Garden crowd’s spirit and sending the Eastern Conference finals back to Miami for a Game 7.
Six minutes before the 98-79 defeat in Game 6 was over, Celtics fans already headed for the exits. Doc Rivers rested Paul Pierce (9 points, 4-18 FG), Kevin Garnett (12 points, 6-14 FG) and Rajon Rondo (21 points, 10 assists, 7 turnovers) for the last half of the fourth quarter, letting them stew on what just happened.
The C’s fans who stayed, though, deserve respect, closing out the final two minutes with a prolonged “Let’s go Celtics” chant that lasted until the final answer, sending a message to the “good job, good effort” Heat fans and Boston’s Big Four for Game 7.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: Through the first 11:42 of Game 6, James played the Celtics dead even by himself. He scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting; the Celtics netted 14 on 7-of-16 from the field. While the C’s offense seemed stagnant for long stretches, James attacked from the opening tip. His effort effectively quieted a deafening Garden crowd and forced the Celtics to play from behind. If not for James, the Heat don’t take a 26-16 lead into the second quarter, as Dwyane Wade started 0-for-4 and finished the first frame scoreless.
Long play the king: Since James started a ridiculous 12-of-14 from the floor, it’s worth discussing further. His emotionless face said it all. If the Heat were going down this time, it wouldn’t be on his shoulders. Playing all 24 minutes of the first half, he scored 30 points, and it would have been more, if not for his 5-of-9 free throw shooting. As the Heat took a 55-42 into the break (on a ridiculous four-point swing of a no-call when Shane Battier mugged Rondo), James owned an 85.7 field goal percentage. The rest of the Heat? Thirty six percent.
Foul mood: With 5:39 remaining in the second quarter, Pierce picked up his third foul, continuing his foul prone ways over the past seven games. Rivers had no choice but to sit his captain until halftime. Pierce had as many turnovers (2) as he had first-half points, and considering James’ performance, it wasn’t his finest effort on either end. Sitting for a long stretch certainly didn’t help his flow. Pierce missed his first three shots out of the break, too. Not to mention a wide-open 3 that would have cut the lead to eight and could have changed the game’s complexion late in the third quarter.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Pushup bro: If the C’s fist-half offense slowed, literally, to a standstill, it wasn’t Rondo’s fault. He was aggressive early, late and most everywhere in between. Perhaps too aggressive (or careless), at times, considering his five turnovers in the opening 24 minutes. But an attacking Rondo is generally a good Rondo. His cleverness helped, too, when he drew a foul at midcourt from Mario Chalmers, performed two knuckle pushups and briefly ignited a crowd into “MVP” chants. As good as James was in the first half, Rondo helped mitigate some of the impact, totaling 19 points and five assists by the break.
Feeding the bigs: Six of Garnett’s first 10 shots came in the paint, and he made four of them, including the first two of the second half on relatively uncontested layups (one of which was followed by a technical foul call on Garnett for simply passing the ball to Battier). The Celtics have lived on their ability to get Garnett the ball in the post all playoffs long, and it’s no coincidence an 8-1 third-quarter surge coincided with their concerted effort to do so. Likewise, four of Brandon Bass‘ first five came within four feet of the basket.
Wade under water: While James showed up to the party and then some, Wade made little to no impact for the majority of Game 6. He started 2-of-10 from the floor. In fact, outside of James and Mario Chalmers (3-4 3P), the C’s had more than their share of chances to cut into what turned out to be a 74-63 Heat deficit entering the fourth quarter — most notably the missed 3 by Pierce and a pair of failed Garnett bunnies to close the third quarter.