LeBron's place in history depends on Game 7
MIAMI - Remember LeBron James' epic 48-point performance, including scoring his team's final 25 points, in a 2007 playoff double-overtime win at Detroit?
Of course you do. After winning that game, James' Cleveland Cavaliers two days later closed out the series to advance to his first NBA Finals.
How about James' dramatic last-second winning three-pointer that culminated a 35-point night and gave his Cavaliers a win over Orlando in Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference finals?
OK, you probably do remember it. But it hasn't gone down in history as a moment as big as it could have been. That's because the Cavaliers ended up losing a six-game series in which James averaged 38.5 points.
That brings us to James' greatest night in his two years with Miami. He totaled 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists Thursday in a 98-79 win at Boston to keep the Heat's season alive and tie these East finals 3-3.
How will that be remembered? Well, let's see what happens in Saturday's Game 7 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
"I think it all depends on Game 7," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Obviously, if they win tomorrow then that Game 6 you'll remember. If we win tomorrow, the Game 6 will be just another great game."
So the Hall of Fame might want to hold off on requesting James' headband from Thursday until after we see what unfolds in Game 7.
There will be some who insist James' fantastic Game 6 only will stand the test of time if the Heat win Saturday and then James goes on to win his first championship. We'll have to see how that plays out.
As for the game against Detroit in 2007 that paved the way for James to make his first Finals appearance, one reason that has endured is that Cleveland wasn't expected to get there that season. The Cavaliers were swept in the Finals by San Antonio, but it was a miracle James was able to steer them that far with his misfit supporting cast.
James knows it's too early to determine how his impressive showing Thursday will go down in history, so he wasn't getting too fired up talking about it following the game.
"I don't know," James said when asked whether it was his greatest playoff performance. "I haven't watched the film or anything like that. I just tried to make plays for our team throughout the whole game."
James spoke in such a matter-of-fact tone it could have been confused for an interview following a preseason game. That's because he knows his job is far from done.
Rivers also knows this series is far from over. He figures if his Celtics play their normal brand of defense Saturday, they've got as much of a shot as Miami does to advance to the Finals and face Oklahoma City.
"We're not going to do much," Rivers said when asked Friday about defensive changes on James. "We do what we do. Defensively, for the most part we have to do it better. Obviously, LeBron had a great game. I thought there were things we should have done better in the game with the way we were playing him, and we didn't do that. So that's the first thing we have to correct, and if we have to do something else, we'll do it."
Rivers figures his Celtics could withstand another 45-point game from James if he takes a lot of shots. After all, James had 45 on 14 of 29 shooting in Game 7 of a 2008 East semifinal between Cleveland and Boston, but Rivers' team won 97-92.
If James shoots 19 of 26, which is what he did Thursday, Rivers knows there might not be much hope for Boston. That sort of marksmanship was one reason Miami coach Erik Spoelstra still was gushing Friday over James' game.
"A fearless performance," Spoelstra called it. "It will probably go down as a historic playoff performance. We needed every bit and minute of it, and maybe we'll need that again. But he's a brilliant basketball player that will read the game and whatever we need. Maybe it's more assists, maybe it's rebounds, who knows? But he'll be there (Saturday)."
How historic it will be will depend upon what happens Saturday. And even if the Heat do win Game 7, it also might depend upon what happens in the Finals.
After all, it's not rare that James scores 40 or more points in a playoff game. He's now done it 11 times, and there are many who wonder why all those great games still haven't translated into a title.
Rivers said that, with the possible exception of Tiger Woods in recent years, he's never seen an athlete scrutinized as much as James.
"He's a great player," Rivers said. "I don't know what else he can do. He does the right things. When he makes the right pass and a guy misses a shot, he's criticized. When he forces a shot in a double team, he's criticized. It's just the way it is for him for whatever reason. He's competitive as heck. He's one of the most powerful players to play the game. Maybe it isn't enough. I don't know."
If Rivers can find a way for his Celtics to beat the Heat in Game 7, it once again won't be enough from James.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson