James, Heat to make last stand in Boston
MIAMI — Jerry West at least regularly got to the NBA Finals before being tormented by Boston. LeBron James has had to share a conference with the Celtics, and it hasn't been a comfortable arrangement.
If James' Miami Heat lose at Boston in Thursday's Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, it will mark the third time in five years he will have been sent home from the playoffs at TD Garden. It's no wonder that TD for James could stand for "totally dejected."
"They definitely come up," James, whose Heat trail the series 3-2, said of bad memories when he visits. "Of course. It's human for them to come up."
West and his Los Angeles Lakers lost six times to the Celtics in six Finals trips during the 1960s. West never did beat Boston, but at least he eventually won his only championship when the Lakers beat New York in 1972.
James, in his ninth season, also is searching for that elusive title. There looked to be a pretty good shot of it happening last year when he was on a team that actually did beat Boston. But the Heat, after defeating the Celtics 4-1 in an East semifinal and topping Chicago 4-1 in the East finals, lost to Dallas 4-2 in the NBA Finals.
James, whose first two playoff meetings with the Celtics came while he was with Cleveland, now has run into them again. And the Celtics, after taking control of the series with a 94-90 win Tuesday at Miami, sure want to send him home for the summer once again.
"It is fitting," James said after practice Wednesday about again facing an elimination game in Boston. "I know how much pain this team has given me over the years. So I guess it's only right that we'd be going up there in an elimination game. In order for us to keep our season going, we got to win in their building."
James never in his career has won in an opposing building when facing elimination, having gone 0-4. The forward is 2-2 at home in elimination games, making his career mark 2-6.
Down 3-2 to Boston in a 2008 East semifinal, James' Cavaliers did stave off elimination at home in Game 6 to tie the series. But they lost 97-92 in Game 7 in Boston despite James scoring 45 points.
Then came the 2010 East semifinal against the Celtics. James had that bizarre Game 5 at home, when he shot 3-of-14 for 15 points in a 120-88 shellacking that gave Boston a 3-2 series lead. The Celtics then wrapped up the series with a 94-85 win at home despite a triple-double by James of 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists. But James also had nine turnovers in the last game he ever would play for Cleveland.
"It's a team sport," Miami forward Chris Bosh said of what's happened with James in his career against the Celtics. "It's not just one thing. They can't throw LeBron in the pot and be like, 'What is it with him?' He had 40 points and they got eliminated back in '08. It's a team sport. We have to do this together. . . . You can't just single him out. People have to stop doing that."
Like it or not, James has been singled out. And those failings against Boston obviously played a role in James bolting the Cavaliers in the summer of 2010 to get some better teammates in guard Dwyane Wade and Bosh.
But now it might happen again to James in Boston. If the Heat lose Thursday, James — fresh off being handed his most recent MVP trophy — would become the only one of eight three-time MVP winners in NBA history without a championship ring. Wilt Chamberlain, in 1967, and Moses Malone, 1983, at least won titles in the seasons they claimed their third MVP trophies.
"I feel confident that we can go up and get one," James said when asked whether he feels any differently now than from previous career elimination games.
Still, James wonders whether maybe he has to do even more for the Heat. Never mind that he scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds Tuesday and is averaging 31.8 points and 10 boards in the series.
"If I can get a couple more points here, a couple more rebounds there, a couple of more assists there, maybe we win more games," James said. "I don't know. I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to come through for our team. And (Tuesday) night I feel I could have made a couple more plays, and I didn't."
James faltered some in the second half Tuesday, shooting just 4-of-13 while playing all 24 minutes. He won't admit it, but James might be getting worn down a bit while trying to carry a Heat team that didn't have Bosh for nine games until Tuesday because of an abdominal strain. The Heat lately usually have had nobody else except Wade helping much with scoring.
James, whose regular-season figure for minutes played was 37.5, is averaging 45.6 minutes in this series, which has featured two overtime games. But he so desperately wants to win a title that he'll play as much as he's allowed.
"It means a lot to me, how much work I've put into this year," James said. "But no one said it's going to be easy. I'm looking forward to the challenge. Me personally, I'm looking forward to it probably more than anybody on the team. So I'm going to lead these guys."
Unfortunately for Miami, TD Garden hasn't been a house of horrors for just James. The Heat have lost 15 of their past 16 regular-season and playoff games at Boston.
When James and Bosh showed up before last season, they had lost eight straight. Since then, they're 1-7.
"You have to play each game as its own," said Wade, who along with forward Udonis Haslem are the only Heat players to have gone through the entire Miami dry spell at Boston. "You can't say, 'Oh, well, we're down one point, but we lost 15 out of 16 here, we're not going to win.' It doesn't work that way. You try to go out and try to play the game, and hopefully at the end you come out with a winning result."
If the Heat can do that Thursday, they could end up saving James a lot more Celtics-inflicted pain.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson