We’re continuing our look back at some classic Miami Heat games. For our last rewind — when Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng led Miami to beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in LeBron’s return — click here.
Our 10th entry takes us back to Miami having lost three straight games to the Boston Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Numerous NBA pundits were already declaring Miami’s Big Three era a failure. Stephen A. Smith said, “Not only is this series over, everything’s over for Miami.” LeBron James even recently said that he thought Pat Riley may break up the team had the Heat lost.
From the jump, LeBron took control of the game. He rose for a 3-pointer with a little less than three minutes left in the first quarter. It went in, and Miami grabbed a 22-12 lead. LeBron had 12 points.
He posted up Mickael Pietrus. He drove by Paul Pierce for fast-break dunks. He rose above Rajon Rondo for mid-range jumpers.
Even with LeBron’s brilliance, the Celtics managed to hang around. Miami saw a 15-point lead cut to eight late in the second quarter. With 1:30 left in the first half, Chris Bosh tried a jump-hook against Ray Allen. The shot missed, but LeBron darted in from the 3-point line. He slammed the ball home. By the end of the half, LeBron had already put up 30 points.
A bank shot from LeBron over the outstretched arm of Kevin Garnett gave Miami a 59-42 minutes into the third quarter. But then, the Celtics cut the deficit to 60-50. Midway through the third, Chris Bosh blocked a Pierce layup attempt. LeBron ran in transition and found Mario Chalmers open for a corner 3. The lead was 67-52.
Boston again made it 69-59. The Celtics crowd was loud, hoping their team would come all the way back. But LeBron rose up for a 3 over Pietrus. It went in, keeping Boston at bay and going up by 13.
To open the fourth, LeBron found Dwyane Wade for a jumper. On Miami’s next possession, Wade made a layup. And then Wade found Shane Battier for a 3. The Heat went up 81-63 with 10:18 left. Finally, Heat fans could breathe a sigh of relief — a Game 7 was in the future.
With 7:50 to go, LeBron spun past Keyon Dooling on the break and found Wade for a layup. Miami went up 87-64. On Miami’s next possession, Wade found a cutting LeBron for a layup. The Heat took a 25-point lead.
It wasn’t until the 3:11 mark that Erik Spoelstra took out LeBron, Wade and Bosh. And for LeBron, that’d be his first time checking out of the game. (Bosh was actually coming off the bench, playing in just his second game back after suffering a lower abdominal strain in Game 1 of the Indiana Pacers series.)
LeBron finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. As I said in a countdown of the best Heat moments of the decade, I’d argue this was LeBron’s greatest game.