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LeBron’s 45 Points Beats Celts, Sets Up Game 7

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BOSTON, MA - JUNE 07: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat attempts a shot in the second half against Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 7, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

BOSTON, MA – JUNE 07: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat attempts a shot in the second half against Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 7, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer

BOSTON (AP) _ LeBron James refused 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.

Pushing away elimination right along with every defender who
tried to stop him, 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.

“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.”

Dwyane Wade added 17 points for the Heat, who need a victory at
home Saturday to return to the NBA finals.

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.

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, 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 1/2 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.
… The Heat switched to their red road jerseys after losing in the
black here earlier in the series.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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