Dwyane Wade on LeBron James: ‘This isn’t last year’
|06.08.12 at 12:24 pm ET|
Dwyane Wade didn’t see it coming. “I’m not a fortune teller,” he said. Erik Spoelstra sensed it coming. “Everybody notices the game,” the Heat coach said. “We saw the last 24 hours.” Either way, LeBron James arrived.
“I hope now you guys will stop talking about LeBron and that he doesn’t play in big games,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “He was pretty good tonight. Now that’s to bed. We can go ahead and play Game 7.”
Therein lies the rub. Sure, his Game 6 evisceration of the C’s was a transcendent performance by a transcendent player, but all 45 points and 15 rebounds are for naught if he and the Heat can’t replicate it on Saturday night.
James willed his team to a must-win playoff victory, finally. That’s what the NBA MVP is supposed to do. But James won’t be remembered for Game 6 if he can’t will them to a must-win series and, really, a must-win NBA title. Surely, it’s a lot to heap on a man with shoulders broad enough to carry the load but a heart that, until Thursday night, seemed unwilling to do so, but it’s not as though he didn’t ask for it in Miami.
“This is not last year,” said Wade. “He’s really been locked in. He’s been playing unbelievable in the playoffs. He’s taken it upon himself. Like I said, he’s been MVP of the league right now. He’s showcasing it on a nightly basis.”
For 45 minutes of Game 6, James displayed why he’s the greatest basketball player in the world. He finished 4-for-4 at the rim, 3-of-4 from 3-9 feet, 5-of-6 from 10-15 feet, 5-of-8 from 16-23 feet and 2-of-4 from 3-point range. In other words. He shot 50 percent or better from everywhere on the floor. And added 15 boards and five assists.
“I think what fuels him is this moment, and the moment will define you,” said Spoelstra in the aftermath. “We’ve been through a lot in the last two years, and I think we’ve all learned how to compartmentalize and quiet all the noise out.”
The moment has defined James, and not the way he wishes it would. He’ll have no problem drowning the noise in Miami. That won’t be the problem. Game 6 is gone, an historic effort that prolonged the Eastern Conference finals. The real moment, though, as has and always will be until he proves otherwise, is the fourth quarter of Game 7.
Since he put Boston to bed in the first three quarters, James didn’t have a chance to pull a Dr. Egon Spengler and expunge his demons down the stretch. He might have done that, too; he may not have. Either way, he’ll have that opportunity in Game 7. Rest assured, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo aren’t going out like that. The fourth quarter in Miami will be close, somewhere in the 80s in all likelihood.
Despite his brilliance Thursday night, James still hasn’t been able to replicate anything close to his fourth-quarter explosion against the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals, when his play announced to the basketball universe that every NBA championship for the next decade runs through him. Of course, that was before his ego announced to the hoop world that the next seven NBA titles already belong to him.
There’s no doubt James recognizes what’s at stake for him. There were no smiles in his postgame press conference, no “I’m pleased with my individual performance” faux pas. There was, however, this walk-off quote as he pounded his finger on the podium: “I’m in a great place right now as far as the game of basketball on the court and off the court, so I’m looking forward to Game 7. See y’all in Miami.”
His Game 6 reminded everyone of his potential, why the expectations are so high for him. He is capable of Wilt Chamberlain-like efforts, but can he pull a Bill Russell and do it again in Game 7? The “Let’s go Celtics” chant that rained down from a mostly empty Garden for the final minutes was the crowd full of lighters as the band walks off the stage. What will James play for an encore? That moment will define him, or it’s last year all over again.