With his back against the wall and a legacy of failed elimination-game performances on the line, LeBron James came through with a game for the ages and denied the Boston Celtics the closeout win at home they so desperately needed.
And that's no exaggeration. It's been a long time since someone had a postseason game this complete, according to ESPN.com Insider Tom Haberstroh:
LeBron James has the first 45-15-5 playoff game in over 15 years.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 7, 2012
James continued his rebounding rampage just two days after grabbing 13 boards in Game 5, but it was his unbelievably efficient and acrobatic shooting night that will be remembered first and foremost. He scored 45 points while making 73 percent of his field-goal attempts, an improbable accomplishment for even the most elite of competitors.
Needless to say, it couldn't have come at a better time.
After having archrival Paul Pierce show him up on his home court in Game 5, James was more than ready to return the favor.
The only difference was that James made more than just one big shot. In fact, he made so many big shots that the game never got close in the second half.
He made fall-away jumpers look easier than uncontested layups, and he seemed completely oblivious to the presence of any defenders that might have been lurking about. He made the kinds of shots that instantly put the league on notice: Don't fall asleep on the Miami Heat.
ESPN's John Hollinger heard that message loud and clear:
With all due respect to Celtics and Thunder, if LeBron is going to make these kind of shots we can all pretty much go home.— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) June 7, 2012
Was LeBron's performance enough to stop the criticism?
With Dwyane Wade suffering through a subpar 6-of-17 shooting night and Chris Bosh remaining a non-factor, James did something that no player has done this postseason—he put his team on his back and single-handedly blew out his opponent.
Kevin Durant hasn't come through like this, not in an hour of such colossal desperation. And Kobe Bryant clearly didn't display this kind of singular resolve in his Lakers' second-round ousting.
Whether the Heat win or lose Game 7, LeBron's Game 6 will arguably remain these playoffs' most defining moment.
It wasn't just that LeBron took one irrefutable step in proving his detractors wrong, it's that he did so without leaving any room for doubt. There's no question about who takes the last shot when there's no last shot to take.
Yes, as Fox Sports' Chris Tomasson notes, there's still something left for James to prove:
At least LeBron won't be eliminated IN Boston for 3rd time in 5 years. But must win Game 7 to not be eliminated BY Boston for 3rd in 5 years— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) June 7, 2012
But James will always have something to prove. There's no number of titles that will definitively set him apart from predecessors like MJ and Kobe (not one, not two, not three...). James will forever be held to impossible standards.
It's time we accept that James is a unique talent—a superstar we should respect in his singularity.
He plays like Magic on some nights and like Kobe on others. You can guess which kind Thursday's 45-point expedition was.
And, he still does all the little things that aren't quite as scintillating as the jaw-dropping point totals. His defense remains second to none, and it showed when Paul Pierce scored just nine points on 4-of-18 shooting.
There would be no last-minute opportunity for Pierce to redeem himself this time. James made sure of that, showing a killer instinct that typifies something even better than a closer: namely, a guy who never lets the big game get even close.
Games usually don't get close when a guy hits 12 consecutive field goals in the first half. After such a decisive opening salvo, Doc Rivers' club knew exactly what it was in store for—a good, ol' fashioned "I told you so."
James insisted he was looking forward to Thursday's challenge, and maybe he was. Every time the Celtics looked like they would cut into the lead, James responded with another basket like a one-man run-stopper.
At the end of the day, this is the LeBron we wanted all along.
James did wind up with five assists on the night, but they were an afterthought. There was never any question that LeBron would put his stamp on this game and do what needed to be done. He played flawlessly when anything less would have meant imminent demise.
If that isn't LeBron James truly arriving, it's pretty darn close.