Guess we’ll have to wait at least one more game to see if LeBron James is going to come up big in a fourth quarter of a meaningful playoff game. That’s what happens when the guy scores 41 of his destructive 45 in the first three quarters.
This was why Doc Rivers was anything but smug following Tuesday night’s triumph in Miami. He knew the Celtics needed to win one more game in order to advance to the Finals, and he knew very well that, no matter what his lunatic critics may say, LeBron James was capable of standing in his team’s way.
You want to talk about great pressure performances in either Garden and you’ll now have to reference the night in 2012 when LeBron James, his team facing elimination, came up with 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists (oh, and while shooting 19 for 26), leading the Heat to a 98-79 victory that tied the Eastern Conference final at three games apiece and sent the Heat back home for the deciding Game 7 feeling a whole lot better about themselves.
LeBron tried to downplay the whole thing. “We hadn’t put together a really complete game,’’ he said, “and that’s what I’m excited about.’’
And as far as rating this one is concerned?
“I don’t know,’’ he said. “I haven’t watched the film, or anything like that. I just wanted to make plays for our team the whole game.’’
Playing a game like this at home would have been one thing, but playing it on the road in a lose-or-go-home scenario enhances the achievement immeasurably. Then again, this is a man who scored 45 right here in a Game 7 four years ago, so should anyone have been stunned? If common sense and fairness when evaluating LeBron were a major part of the discussion, the arguments would be very brief. But common sense and fairness have not been part of any LeBron discussion since the fateful night of The Decision in July 2010.
“I hope you guys can stop talking about LeBron not playing well in big games,’’ chided Rivers, not all in jest. “He did tonight. Now we have to get ready for Game 7.’’
“He was absolutely fearless tonight,’’ said Miami mentor Erik Spoelstra. “And it was contagious, the way he approached the last 48 hours. It wasn’t the end of the world. Nobody likes getting dirt thrown on their face before you’re dead.’’
LeBron missed his first shot, a 15-foot jumper from the right side. No doubt the jeering crowd rejoiced. Hope they enjoyed the moment, because he made his next 12.
Yes, 12. The first was a thunderous dunk at the conclusion of a coast-to-coast excursion, but the preponderance of those dozen hoops were jumpers of every description. We in Boston like to say of Rajon Rondo that when he is hitting his jump shot it’s really not fair. Well, apply the same thought to LeBron and magnify it to the 10th power. In the first three quarters, LeBron was hitting from the outside and it wasn’t fair. It actually bordered on a cruel and unusual punishment being inflicted on the Boston Celtics.
LeBron scored 12 of his team’s first 19, 22 of its first 40, 30 of its first 53, and 41 of its first 74, as the visitors grabbed a 74-61 three-quarter lead.
“He came out in an attack mentality right from the get-go,’’ analyzed Spoelstra. “He is, arguably, the most skilled player in the league. He has a lot in his repertoire, and we needed all of it tonight.’’
Rivers was very willing to heap praise on LeBron. He always is. But he also felt his team could have done something to deter this guy.
“He made a lot of tough ones,’’ Doc said, “but we didn’t play him with a lot of force, honestly. He brought it to us, and we didn’t bring it back.’’
LeBron turned his nightly battle with Paul Pierce into a horrible mismatch. Boston’s resident gunslinger shot a dismal 4 for 18, leaving his coach no choice but to promise a big comeback Saturday night. It also didn’t help Celtics matters that Kevin Garnett, for the first time in a long time, looked, well, creaky. If those two are finally wearing down, well, what Celtics fan wants to go there?
LeBron and his coach had agreed he was going to have a heavy work load Thursday night. “I told him yesterday that it was going to be at least 46 [minutes],’’ said Spoelstra. “But he was ready and willing. He said, ‘Whatever you need, Coach. If that means 48, 53, whatever. Whatever it takes, I’ll do.’ ’’
Spoelstra might have overdone it, not yanking his ace until 3:11 before the final buzzer, with the Heat up, 92-70.
None of this is going to matter to the LeBron haters, who insist on applying a standard to him that no previous NBA superstar has ever had to live with, and I mean none, starting with Joe Fulks and carrying through Kobe Bryant. Yes, James brought this on himself two years ago, but it’s time to let it go, because the reality is that having LeBron in our midst is a blessing.
If you don’t like LeBron, you don’t like basketball. It’s about that simple. People need to appreciate greatness when they encounter it.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.