What's next, LeBron?
To reach into the bag of cliches, LeBron James delivered a statement game Thursday night. He dug down deep, answered his critics and kept his team alive.
He did what he's done before.
With 45 points, 15 rebounds and a look on his face that indicated he could have posted 60 and 25, had he needed to, LeBron reminded us all he's the most uniquely gifted basketball player on the planet and that any team that has him in its lineup -- even one as flawed and seemingly fragile as the Miami Heat -- is capable of winning any game at any time.
Even the ones on the biggest stage. Especially the ones on the biggest stage.
What we saw Thursday night in Boston was, in a way, vintage LeBron. In another way, it was a player who sometimes looks like he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders instead playing like he's head and shoulders the best player on the floor.
He was. He usually is.
Love him, loathe him, tolerate him or just occasionally allow yourself to be wowed by him, Thursday night offered a glimpse of what made LeBron the mega-star he is today. It's why we -- the media, the Twitterverse, casual and passionate NBA fans -- hold him to such a high standard.
It's not a reach to say many Northeast Ohio basketball fans anxiously awaited Thursday night's Game 6 between the Celtics and Heat because a Celtics win would have eliminated the Heat from the playoffs. LeBron hasn't been very popular 'round here (save for a few blocks in Akron) since July 8, 2010, the day he chose Miami and the day before he counted off all those titles his Miami SuperTeam would win.
So many who rooted for LeBron as a Cavalier and hometown hero are really enjoying the fact his actual title count remains at zero. He's only 0 for 1 since bailing on his promise to win a title in Cleveland, actually, but there's no reason to let the truth get in the way of jumping to the conclusion that he's just not wired to win the game's ultimate prize.
It makes for great television. It makes for strong feelings and strong opinions on both sides. It makes LeBron live under a microscope, makes him live with constant scrutiny and the feeling that any year he doesn't win an NBA title goes down as a failure. This monster was created long ago.
LeBron signed up for this.
We all make mistakes. We don't all make jaw-dropping plays, own three NBA MVP awards and aspire to be a global icon. There's a price to pay to be LeBron, but the rewards are pretty good.
It's just LeBron because one name is enough. Nobody else plays every position, sees the floor like he does and is strong enough to play the bank to beat the shot clock and lead the fast break, baseline to baseline, with just a few powerful dribbles.
It's a little absurd to say LeBron is capable of doing what he did in Game 6 almost all the time. No mere mortal is going to hit 10 of his first 12 shots every night, attack an outstanding defense from the block one possession and make a deep three-pointer on the next. He makes the absurd seem routine; he does what most mere mortals can not.
He needs to win an NBA title, and he played accordingly in Game 6. He needs to get over the stigma of not being able to win the big one and not wanting the ball in the biggest moments.
"I hope now you guys will stop talking about LeBron and that he doesn't play in big games," Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters after the game. "He was pretty good. Now that's (put) to bed."
Back when he was all skinny arms and skinny legs as a young high school star in Akron, he saw the game two and three plays ahead. He didn't bulldoze people around the basket and he often deferred to other players. But even back then when he flipped the switch -- when he asserted himself, saw the moment and seized it -- it was clear he was at least playing at a different speed and a different level, if not playing an altogether different game.
At times now, he still is. He's chiseled, he's all grown up and he's used to his role as the bad guy -- even if he's not completely comfortable with it. The stardom, the attention, the burdens, there's a chance LeBron has never been fully comfortable with it. His talent put him here. His gifts, and his near-misses, raised the bar.
He's treated, evaluated and will ultimately be remembered differently because he is different. When you tattoo "Chosen 1" across your back, we assume you believe it.
The standard is, and always will be, different -- and higher -- and LeBron because he believes he's different, and so often he's proven that he is. Now that he seems to know he needs to win an NBA title and doesn't just want one (or two, or three, you know the rest), things might be different. What he did Thursday might continue. Twitter might really explode, the NBA might pop all-time ratings numbers and a player for the ages might keep delivering performances for the ages.
Or Rajon Rondo might rescue the Celtics in Game 7, and in the final seconds the Chosen 1 might choose Dwyane Wade to shoot the final crucial shot.
With LeBron, you really never know what you might see next. You just know you don't want to miss it.