BOSTON — They gave good effort. They really did. The Celtics fans leaned forward against the rail of Section 20, behind the media section, fully anticipating a series ending, fixing for a Heat funeral — screaming and shrieking from the start for their heroes, all while jeering and cursing the enemy with “Miami” and “6” in white across his chest.
And, so, no, they didn’t go down easy, not even after LeBron James took a break from driving and dunking to stroke another jumper, this one in the grille of a powerless Paul Pierce.
“You ain’t The Truth!” they taunted James, a reference to the fellow All-Star small forward he was taking apart.
But, soon, it would all be too much. James wore them down, like he wore down the Celtics in a 98-79 victory.
“When a guy comes out and throws a barrage on you like that, it takes some energy out of you,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
On this night, the self-proclaimed King James was fit to wear a crown.
“I now hope you guys can stop talking about LeBron, that he doesn’t play (well) in big games,” Rivers said. “He was pretty good tonight.”
He was so good that he overcame a sixth straight sluggish start from his sidekick Dwyane Wade. So good that the Heat overwhelmed the Celtics, in a place Miami usually gets plastered, with the rest of the team totaling just 18 field goals.
So good that rowdy, rabid spectators were left reeling, reduced to respectful witnesses, saying “Wow” and “Wow” and “Wow” again.
So good that now, after his 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting, his critics have been temporarily reduced to rubble, and the conference championship has been reduced to one game.
Saturday night, in Miami.
For the right to face the Thunder in Oklahoma City starting Tuesday.
“He was absolutely fearless tonight,” said James’ coach, Erik Spoelstra. “And it was contagious.”
Yet, with each spin, slam and swish, it was the Celtic crowd that got sicker.
Some of them in Section 20.
After James turned and feathered through a floater, for two of his 30 points in the first half, one of those same spectators moaned, “How do you keep up with that? He doesn’t stop. He doesn’t (bleepin’) hesitate.”
Then, early in the third quarter, when he cleared out his teammates to splash a 20-footer over Mickael Pietrus, one yelled, “When does it end?”
And then, early in the fourth, when he drained another jumper to put the Heat ahead 19, it was time for a question.
“How many points does he have?” asked the first.
“Too many,” answered a second. “Forty-three freaking points.”
“He’s an animal,” assessed the first.
The carnivorous kind, predatory from the outset. He had arrived late to the arena because the driver of the Heat’s second bus took a circuitous route and struggled to get the vehicle up a ramp.
James spent the open locker-room period on his back, reading Mockingjay while getting stretched, with his teammate Juwan Howard kindly swooping over to slip a towel under his head.
He was on the court for introductions, a departure from the recent norm on the road, seeming intent on embracing the pressure, even after he had said in the morning that he didn’t feel it.
Seeming intent to shut up the doubters, even after he claimed he didn’t hear them.
“Nobody likes getting thrown dirt on your face when you’re not even dead,” Spoelstra said.
“He was locked in from the beginning of the game, like I’ve never seen him before,” Wade said.
“What fuels him is the moment,” Spoelstra said. “And the moment will define him.”
From the opening moments, it was apparent what he intended. In Game 4, he had scored early and easily as well, but did so mostly from perimeter, and when his pace tapered off, the Heat was in trouble.
This time, he attacked the rim as a eseasoned steak, blasting past Pierce for a dunk, then grabbing a rebound and streaking end-to-end against four defenders to convert an acute-angle reverse layup. He was hit in the mouth on a drive. He didn’t stop.
“Just gave him the ball and got out of the way,” Wade said.
“He made some fantastic shots,” Rivers said. “I didn’t think we played him with a lot of force, honestly. I thought he brought it to us, and we never gave it back.”
Finally, with 3:11 left, Spoelstra parked him on the pine, for garbage time. Half the crowd had already cleared out, but those who remained took the encouraging, appreciative approach, chanting “Let’s Go Celtics” before the Celtics closed up for Miami.
“They did their part tonight,” Rivers said. “We just didn’t do ours.”
One fan above the tunnel took matters into his own hands, dumping a cup of beer on James, as if it would stop him. It worked no better than the dirt.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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LeBron James powered Miami to a frantic fourth-quarter rally and overtime escape in Game 6 as the Heat beat the Spurs 103-100 on Tuesday night to extend the NBA Finals.