The fat lady was out with laryngitis Thursday night. But she'll be back to sing Saturday night, one-way or another.
Coming into this game with a tremendous amount of pressure, LeBron James responded with a magnificent game to lead the Heat in a 98-89 win. He a nearly impeccable first half, scoring 30 points and making 12 of his first 13 shots. He made a series of contested jumpers, worked well out of the post and even had a nasty tip-dunk in the second quarter. On the other side of the court, James guarded Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett at different times. To put it simply, he had a half for the ages. James missed a few shots in the third, but still made a number of big-time baskets, always responding when the Celtics threatened with a mini-run.
The Celtics started the fourth quarter down 13, but it was Dwyane Wade who put some pressure off James late. He made a couple of key plays - including a reverse layup on Kevin Garnett and a nice assist on a Shane Battier 3 - that put the game out of reach. Miami's good fourth quarter allowed James to rest for the final three minutes of the game; he had not sat down up until that point.
When the Heat faced a 2-1 series hole against the Indiana Pacers, James responded with 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. Faced with even more adversity, James had 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting from the field, 15 rebounds and five assists. He missed a few freebies and turned the ball over four times, but that's nit-picking. James had a great performance to force a Game 7.
Like the first six games of the series, Wade got off to a slow start. He shot just 1-for-6 from the field in the first half, again forcing James to carry more of the load - which was actually a good thing because James couldn't miss. Despite coming off the bench again, Chris Bosh played 28 minutes Thursday night and finished with seven points and six boards. He made a couple of jumpers, used his length effectively and even converted on a lob from Wade in the first half. Just to contextualize the importance of Bosh, ask yourself which other Miami big man can convert on lob passes with consistency.
The Celtics committed nine turnovers in the half, including one behind-the-back pass from Rondo that sailed out of bounds. Boston appeared to get a little too cute with the basketball, and Miami took advantage. The Celtics also missed some shots that could have turned the momentum in the third quarter - including wide-open 3-point looks for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. It was good, though, to see Joel Anthony give a few minutes of energy off the bench in the fourth quarter to bother Garnett on a couple of his field-goal attempts.
Miami and Boston will fight for the right to enter the NBA Finals Saturday night at 8:30 and face the Oklahoma City Thunder. Expect a great game.