NBA: LeBron leads Heat past Celtics to even series

Wade says he has never seen the MVP play better for Miami as Eastern Conference final set to reach thrilling climax.

LeBron James points the way forward for Miami.
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BOSTON // With the Miami Heat facing elimination from the NBA playoffs, LeBron James unleashed one of his greatest performances to force a one-game showdown on Saturday for an NBA Finals berth.

James scored 45 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to power the Miami Heat over Boston 98-79 on Thursday and even the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final at 3-3, routing the host Celtics when they had a chance to advance with a victory.

"It was a matter of too much LeBron," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He was sensational. He made every shot, set the tone. I thought he gave them comfort."

The Heat forced a deciding game on Saturday in Miami with the winner booking a spot against the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals starting Tuesday.

"We had to win this game," James said. "It's a good win for us. It's a one-game series now and it's in our building. We're looking forward to the challenge."

NBA Most Valuable Player James kept alive his hopes of capturing his first NBA title, his main goal when he departed the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 to join fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

The Heat reached last year's NBA Finals in the first season for James in Miami, but lost to the Dallas Mavericks.

Wade, who added 17 points, said James produced the best game he has played since joining the Heat.

"He played amazingly," Wade said. "He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I have never seen him before. Some of the shots he made were incredible. It really was an MVP performance.

"We just gave him the ball and got out of the way."

James scored 30 first-half points on 12-of-14 shooting to lead Miami to a 55-42 half-time lead.

"I just wanted to try to lead my team the best way I could," James said. "I was aggressive from the opening tip and the guys continued to find me. It is a great feeling to be in. You feel like everything you put up is going to go in."

The Celtics made runs at the Heat in the third and fourth quarters but could not produce nearly enough points to threaten the visitors, in part because of the hammering James gave them in the first half.

"We didn't play like us. Each guy wanted to win the game for us," Rivers said. "When a guy comes and throws a barrage at you like that, it takes some energy out of you.

"He made some fantastic shots. I didn't think we played him with a lot of force. He made great shots but we can play better defense. I thought he brought it to us but we never gave it back."

James was proud of the way the team bounced back after losing game five in Miami on Tuesday to put themselves on the brink of elimination.

"I was happy we were able to put together a complete game for the first time in this series," James said. "I'm happy I was able to make some plays to help us win. This was a gut-check for us. It's good we were able to bounce back."

Wade called it "probably our biggest win together as a team. It was a defining moment for this team."

Rajon Rondo led Boston with 21 points and a game-high 10 assists while Kevin Garnett managed only 12 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Ray Allen had 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting and Paul Pierce produced only nine points on 4-of-18 shooting.

"There was a great sense of disappointment," Allen said. "I know my guys will be ready next game."

Every other Heat player had only a supporting role compared to James, who finished four points shy of his NBA playoff career high of 49 points scored against Orlando in 2009.

"You have got to tip your hat to him. He carried his team," Allen said.

Rivers said his players should take their inability to stop James "very personally" and noted that in the locker room after the game, he looked at his players and "you could see their resolve."

"We left a huge opportunity on the floor," Rivers said. "But we have another opportunity."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra marveled at how well James used his playmaking skills in a must-win situation.

"He was absolutely fearless and it was contagious," Spoelstra said. "He showed great resolve. He was fearless and everybody followed.

"He came out with an attack mentality right from the get-go and that gave the team a lot of confidence. He has maybe the most talent in the league and he showcased it tonight and we needed every bit of it."

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