LeBron James did on Thursday what hasn’t been done in almost 50 years.
It’s just too bad more viewers weren’t interested in rooting for the three-time MVP instead of against him.
Converting 9-of-10 from the field to start the game, 12-of-14 in the first half and 19-for-26 on the night, James relied on remarkable efficiency to become the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to record 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.
While James was busy having his way with the Celtics’ defense, Boston’s go-to scorer was looking every one of his 34 years. Slowed by foul trouble and perhaps fatigued from chasing the kinetic James, Paul Pierce suffered through one of the worst postseason performances of his career. “The Truth” made just four of 18 shots, frequently displaying frustration at no-calls and the night James was having at his expense.
Even series lynchpin Rajon Rondo looked out of sorts. After a blistering first half in which he scored 19 points to go along with five assists, the usually judicious point guard managed only one second-half basket and committed seven momentum-swinging turnovers.
But the story of the night was undeniably Miami’s one-man wrecking crew, LeBron James.
The Celtics hadn’t been bludgeoned by an individual effort like this since 1986, the year Michael Jordan tallied 63 points, five rebounds and six assists en route to what many consider the best playoff performance ever. That night, Jordan needed 41 shots, 21 free throws and double-overtime to post those numbers. He shot 53 percent from the floor, dropped 18 in his highest-scoring quarter and had 36 points by the end of three.
Know that, and LeBron’s Herculean act is all the more staggering. The unduly criticized 8x All-Star connected on an unfathomable 73 percent of his attempts in Game 6. He shot 86 percent in the first half alone, rebuffing every Boston threat with crowd-silencing threes and thunderous dunks. He recorded point totals of 14, 16, 11 and four through the four quarters, respectively—the latter of which was spent running clock to preserve a sizable lead. Despite an underwhelming five-of-nine from the charity stripe, James scored 41 points through the first three periods - five more than Jordan. Miami’s emergent leader required only 22 shots to eclipse the 40-point mark. Jordan needed 31.
Fully aware of what he'd just seen, Magic Johnson implored America during his postgame wrap to appreciate James' incredible feat, while ESPN talking head Jeff Van Gundy offered similar consternation at the nonsensical animus directed toward the King. Even Doc Rivers conceded it was “just too much LeBron.”
So if you’re looking for a bit of advice going into Saturday’s finale, try digesting James with an appreciation for his talents. On a night when the original “Big Three” could have delivered Boston to its third finals appearance in five years, Miami’s alpha male rescued the Heat from the brink of elimination with a once-in-a-generation performance.