LeBron James rises to occasion in Game 6

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LeBron James rises to occasion in Game 6

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- LeBron James pushed away elimination, right along with any defender who tried to stop him. He wasn't going to let another season end in Boston. The Eastern Conference finals, and his chase of an NBA championship, are headed back to Miami for a Game 7. James had 45 points and 15 rebounds, overwhelming the Celtics and leading the Heat to a 98-79 victory Thursday night that forced the decisive game. "He was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "The way he approached the last 48 hours, and not only LeBron, but everybody else. Nobody likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you're even dead. He showed great resolve." James shot 19 of 26 from the field and finished four points shy of his playoff career-high while playing 45 minutes, not sitting down until the victory was long secured. After two days of questions about the Heat's future and his own history, James provided his response in resounding fashion in a building where Miami had lost 15 of its previous 16 games. "In an environment like this, you want to have a big game," he said. "I wanted to be there for my teammates, no matter what was going on throughout the course of the game. "This was a gut check for us, and it's good to see we were able to bounce back after that loss, after that Game 5 loss at home." Dwyane Wade added 17 points for the Heat, who need a victory at home Saturday night to return to the NBA finals. And if James plays like this again, Miami should have no problem getting it. "He played amazing. He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I've never seen him before," Wade said. Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 10 assists for Boston. Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass each scored 12 points, but Paul Pierce had only nine on 4-of-18 shooting. In the site of some of James' biggest disappointments, the only disappointed ones Thursday were the thousands of fans who hoped to see a celebration but instead filed out of the TD Garden midway through the fourth quarter, just before the league MVP called it a night. "He was comfortable all night," Rondo said. "We didn't get into his air space." Miami barely won Game 2 before dropping the next three games, but this one was never in doubt. James was a one-man force on what's supposed to be a Big Three, carrying the Heat in the first half while Wade made only 1 of 6 shots. The Celtics were hoping to complete a comeback from a 2-0 deficit, as Oklahoma City did in the Western Conference, and advance to face the Thunder in the NBA finals. But they missed 13 of 14 3-point attempts and will have to win a second straight game in Miami to play for the title. James' season was twice ended in Boston while playing for Cleveland, the Celtics emerging as the winner in a Pierce-James duel in Game 7 of the 2008 East semifinals, then beating the Cavs in Game 6 of the second round two years later. That was James' last game with Cleveland, leaving that summer for Miami and the All-Star help that Wade and Chris Bosh could provide. He needed none of it Thursday. He had 30 points by halftime and spent the night silencing the Celtics crowd and perhaps some of the doubters he somehow still has. He set the tone for the game by making 6 of 7 shots and scoring 14 points in the first quarter, and he made sure the Heat were never challenged from there. "I hope now you guys can stop talking about LeBron and he doesn't play in big games," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He was pretty good tonight. So we can put that to bed and go play Game 7." Meanwhile, Pierce, whose 3-pointer over James was the biggest basket of Boston's Game 5 victory, missed 13 of 16 shots through three quarters, including all six 3-point attempts. The Heat obviously weren't deflated by that loss and came to fight, scoring 10 straight points to build a 10-point lead shortly after Mario Chalmers was called for a technical foul after getting mixed up with Ray Allen. They extended it to 12 points later in the period, taking a 26-16 lead into the second after shooting 58 percent in the period. Wade finally got on the board with a jumper to open the second, but he seemed strangely passive even with Miami trying to save its season. No matter. James didn't need the help. He had consecutive baskets for a 15-point lead and came up with a basket every time the Celtics tried to get any rhythm. He soared high above the rim -- and any other player -- for a follow dunk after the Celtics had crept within eight in the final 2 minutes of the half. Miami led 55-42 at the break. James made 12 of his first 13 shots before missing from the perimeter on his final attempt of the half. Only Rondo kept it from being a blowout, scoring 19 points and adding five assists in the half. Relishing the challenge, he even emulated Garnett by doing a couple of knuckle pushups after being knocked to the court while drawing a foul, but he couldn't keep up with James and needed some help that never arrived. The Celtics, trying desperately for one last championship before the expected breakup of their Big Three, hope this one doesn't get added to recent series losses against Orlando in 2009 and the Lakers in the NBA finals in 2010, when they lost Game 6s with chances to win series and then fell in Game 7. James' first basket of the third quarter increased the lead to 17 points, and from there it was just a matter of coming up with another score any time the Celtics tried to make a run. Boston never came close, and when a 3-pointer by Shane Battier made it 81-63 with 10:19 to play, Rivers spent part of a timeout standing alone on the court with his arms folded, leaving it to the players to try to come up with an answer that wasn't there. Bosh entered with 5 minutes left in the first quarter of his second game back after missing nine with a lower abdominal strain, finishing with seven points and six rebounds. Notes: James is the first player to score at least 25 points against the Celtics in eight consecutive postseason games since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from April 28, 1974, to May 27, 1984. ...The NBA playoff record for points in a half is 39, set by Golden State's Eric "Sleepy" Floyd on May 10, 1987, against the Lakers. Floyd finished with 51 points. ... The Heat switched to their red road jerseys after losing in the black here earlier in the series.

5 reasons the Celtics will get the No. 1 seed

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5 reasons the Celtics will get the No. 1 seed

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Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

Haggerty: Signs of panic starting to show as losses mount for B's

BOSTON -- For the third straight season, the Bruins are showing all the ugly, telltale signs of a hockey club poised to take a nosedive out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The short-attention span Bruins returned in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at TD Garden, and proceeded to blow three one-goal leads in the second period before totally collapsing in the final 20 minutes of the game. Three unanswered third goals later, the Bruins were understandably downtrodden and accountable for a performance that kicked up so many bad memories from the last couple of seasons.

“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we can’t point fingers. Everyone has to step up and if every guy is going to do their job, including myself, then the rest will follow, you know?” said David Krejci. “But we hadn’t done that [against Tampa Bay] at all. The last two games against Toronto and Ottawa, I thought we worked hard. But for whatever reason [against Tampa] – maybe we thought it was going to come easy – we just shot ourselves in the foot.

“Like I said, each player has to be better, including myself, and if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be losing and we need to win games. We have a team, we all believe, we know we can play well. We know we can win hockey games. We have a great game plan, but [against Tampa] I guess we just thought it was going to come easy.”

Even worse there were clear signs of panic in Boston’s game as things unfolded in an unsightly manner on the Garden ice.

Clearly it wasn’t about talent on Thursday night, and instead it was about focus, concentration and paying attention to the fine details that can come back to haunt you late in the season. The Bruins scored three goals in the second period with David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Riley Nash each lighting the lamp, but it took 44 seconds, 24 seconds and 1 minute, 35 seconds respectively in the second period for the Bolts to things up.

That’s the kind of instant buckling and crumbling under pressure we’ve seen in the past from the Bruins late in seasons, and we’re seeing it again despite a different coach and some new, hard-nosed players like David Backes. That lack of composure combined with a pinch of panic is a potentially disastrous mix for the Black and Gold, just as it has been for the last three years.

“Those follow up shifts need to be our best shifts of the game. They’re when you can either bury a team, or when you get scored on to have a great response, and to show that you’re not going away [if you’re the team trailing]. I don’t think they were our best shifts. They were probably some of our least [effective] in the form of execution, least form of desperation and fortitude to just impose what we’re going to do on the other team.

[Tampa] certainly made good on their chances, there’s no question about that. But I think we led into them way too much and the result is the result that we don’t get points again. We’re four [losses] in a row here, but this needs to stop Saturday [against the Islanders] or the bleeding starts to get profuse after that. The guys are in this room. We know it. We’ve seen it. We need to look in the mirror.”

It goes beyond a thoroughly gross second period, however.

The Bruins last line of defense, No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, crumbled in the second and third period as things were falling apart around him. Anton Stralman beat him high to the short-side, glove side for the game-tying goal on a transition play, and Jonathan Drouin snapped one past him from the face-off circle that dipped under his glove hand for the game-winner.

It was a soft, inexcusable goal allowed in a hugely important game, and was part of five goals allowed on 28 shots for the former Vezina Trophy winner. After the game Rask seemed frazzled, his voice getting soft and trailing off when it was his turn to accept responsibility for a giant stink bomb tossed down on the Garden ice.

“You have to [pick up the team]. A lot of the time that’s the case, the goalie has to make a couple extra stops there and today I didn’t,” said Tuukka Rask. “That’s part of my job to accept the fact that sometimes it’s your fault. There were a couple of times I should’ve made the save, but it happens sometimes…”

The high pressure situation with things spiraling out of control even seemed to be getting to their best, most established players with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand forcing things down a goal in the third period. Bergeron and Marchand were put back together with David Pastrnak in the second and third periods with Bruce Cassidy looking for answers, and they attempted to execute a D-zone face-off play that’s worked a few times for them in the last few years.

It involves Bergeron winning the draw, and then either Marchand or Pastrnak immediately releasing for a home run pass that can turn into a breakaway opportunity if the opponent is caught napping. Tampa Bay wasn’t caught unaware when the B’s tried it in the middle of the third period, but then Bergeron and Co. kept trying to make it happen.

They ended up icing the puck multiple times trying to make the goal happen in one quick play rather than working for the tying goal, and it killed any momentum they could have possibly started building up for a third period comeback. It also showed a fundamental lack of confidence that they could scratch and claw their way back in on Thursday night, and that’s a definite cause for concern at this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is a focus, and it’s urgency, and it’s understanding time and score. We did not have a good comprehension of that tonight, I don’t think, and of late,” said Cassidy. “We’ve let games get away, and you can look back, even this year, we’ve had some goals scored against us late throughout the course of the year. It’s been built in this year, and we’re still fighting through it, to be perfectly honest.

“It’s a mindset that we’ve just got to get harder and understand the stakes, and what’s required after you score a goal. I think winning teams get through that, and we’re fighting through it this year. Some nights, we’ve been good at it. We’ve had resiliency, I think. It’s just, lately, it’s creeping in, and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”

It hasn’t been just the young players at the heart of this four-game losing streak, and the Tampa loss should have been a wakeup call that the Bruins veterans need to find a way to step up their focus, their effort level and their composure at this time of year. After their fourth loss in a row, the Bruins have frittered away whatever margin for error they once had with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.