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.

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder. 

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.” 

As soon as the two made eye contact, Crowder knew it was one of the many intimidation methods used by Cousins against opposing players. 

Crowder wasn’t having it. 

“That’s my guy; he’s my guy,” Crowder said of Cousins. “He plays a lot of tactics against a lot of other players. I’ve earned that respect with him. He knows I’m going to fight him just as hard as anybody else. We leave it on the court. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve become friends, just playing ball, playing basketball the right way.”