Heat force Game 7 in Miami, crush Celtics, 98-79

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Heat force Game 7 in Miami, crush Celtics, 98-79

BOSTON For a change, there will be no questions about LeBron James' clutch factor.

When you dominate a game the way he did in Thursday's Game 6 tilt with the Boston Celtics, late-game heroics aren't needed.

James delivered one of the most dominant performances the Garden faithful have been a witness to, culminating in a 98-79 Miami Heat victory to force a winner-moves-on matchup on Saturday in Miami.

The three-time MVP, criticized for coming up short in big games, finished with 45 points with baskets coming against any and every defender Boston threw his way.

Long range jumpers. Mid-range jumpers. Put-back dunk. Lay-ups.

If there was a way to score, James managed to do it.

And his dominant play came on a night when Paul Pierce was, well, awful.

The Captain was among those struggling defensively against James. Pierce was woeful shooting the ball, missing a slew of lay-ups and jumpers all game.

He finished with just nine points on 4-for-18 shooting.

It was in a word, as bad a game you could play in a game that had so much on the line.

Just like that, all those headlines and talking points about the Celtics cruising into the NBA Finals where Oklahoma City has already punched their ticket to gone!

They will now be replaced by James and the Heat righting the ship just in time to move past a Celtics team that for the first time in this series, looked old and feeble.

With just under seven minutes to play, Miami was up by 25 points.

Yeah.

It was that ugly.

And with that, the Celtics now must do the unlikely - beat the Heat on their floor to move on to the NBA Finals.

For a team with so many prideful veterans - many of whom may not be back next year - this may be the last game they play together in front of the TD Garden fans.

But the Celtics aren't in the reminiscing mood right now, not with another shot at going to the NBA Finals at their disposal.

This was a game in which the Heat took control from the outset and never looked back. Miami pulled ahead by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, with James leading the charge.

At one point, he had almost as many points (12) by himself as the entire Celtics team (14). But unlike the previous three games - all Boston wins - he was getting some help from his teammates with Shane Battier (five points) contributing to the strong first quarter for Miami which ended with the Heat ahead, 26-16.

Miami continued to play with a comfortable double-digit lead for most of the second quarter, with James continuing to log every single minute. He didn't leave the floor until the 3:11 mark of the fourth quarter.

The three-time league MVP delivered a near flawless first half performance, scoring 30 points in the first half on 12-for-14 shooting.

Most of James' points came on jumpers from just about every angle imaginable, as the Celtics slew of defenders were seemingly defenseless against his one-man assault on the Garden.

Making matters worst for the Celtics was that the one player that seemingly made James work the hardest defensively, Paul Pierce, was limited in the first half because of three personal fouls.

Rajon Rondo did his part to keep the C's relatively close, scoring 19 first-half points as the Heat took a 55-42 lead into the half.

Bradley (Achilles) 'felt good' during return to Celtics lineup

Bradley (Achilles) 'felt good' during return to Celtics lineup

WALTHAM, Mass. – As the final horn blew in Boston’s 108-98 win over Charlotte on Monday night, the game was a win-win kind of night for Avery Bradley.

The Celtics (26-15) continue rolling over opponents at the TD Garden, and he played a relatively pain-free 33 minutes in the win.

It was Bradley’s first game back after missing the previous four with a strained right Achilles injury.

And the fact that he was back on the practice floor on Tuesday (be it a light practice, mind you), bodes well for his injury being a thing of the past now.

“I felt good. It wasn’t sore at all in the game,” Bradley said. “I felt I was moving good. After the game I was a little sore and this morning, but otherwise I felt good.”

Despite Boston being 4-1 this season when Bradley doesn’t play, he has immense value to this Celtics team at both ends of the floor.

Offensively he has been Boston’s second-leading scorer most of this season and currently averages a career-high 17.7 points per game along with 6.9 rebounds which is also a career high.

And defensively, Bradley is coming off a season in which he was named to the NBA’s all-Defensive First Team for the first time.

Any questions or concerns about the Achilles affecting his play defensively were put to rest Monday night when he put the defensive clamps on Nicolas Batum who missed nine of his 11 shots from the field while primarily being guarded by Bradley.

Now his offense, that’s another story.

Bradley failed to reach double digits scoring for the first time this season as he missed seven of his nine shots on Monday to finish with just five points.

But part of that had to do with Bradley passing up shots he normally takes, as well as him missing some he normally knocks down.

Considering his lay-off and the rhythm his teammates have been in shooting the ball in his absence, Bradley wisely decided to get his defensive bearings on track and gradually bring his offensive game around. 

“I have to get my (shooting) rhythm back,” said Bradley who is making a career-best 40.9 percent of his 3-pointers this season. “I’m fine. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”