BOSTON // Twice before, LeBron James walked off the court here with nowhere to go except summer vacation.
The destination this time: Game 7 in Miami tonight, with a place in the NBA finals on the line.
The Heat need a victory at home to advance to the championship round against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and if James plays as he did Thursday, scoring 45 points in Miami's 98-79 win over the Celtics, the Heat stand an excellent chance of victory.
"He was locked in from the beginning of the game like I've never seen him before," said his teammate Dwayne Wade.
The Celtics were hoping to complete a comeback from a 2-0 deficit, as Oklahoma City did in the Western Conference, and advance to 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.
Trying desperately for one last championship before the expected breakup of their veteran core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics hope this one does not get added to recent series losses against Orlando in 2009 and the Lakers in the NBA finals in 2010.
In each case they had a chance to win the series in Game 6, failed and then lost in Game 7.
"You got an opportunity to close out a series on your home floor, and for us to come out and play the way we did, it was very tough," Pierce said. "You got to take your hats off to them. They had a really great game plan. LeBron really got hot and played like the MVP."
Pierce had a difficult game, missing 13 of 16 shots through three quarters, including all six of his 3-point attempts.
James silenced the Celtics crowd, scoring 30 points by half time. He made 19 of 26 shots and took 15 rebounds, and seemed destined for 50 points before he was removed from the lopsided game with three minutes to play.
"I hope now you guys can stop talking about LeBron and he doesn't play in big games," said Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach.
James provided his own response in resounding fashion in a building where Miami had lost 15 of their previous 16 games. "He was absolutely fearless, and it was contagious," said Erik Spoelstra, the Heat coach. "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."
At the site of some of James's biggest disappointments, the only disappointed ones Thursday were the thousands of Celtics 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.
"He was comfortable all night," Rajon Rondo said. "We didn't get into his air space."
Twice before James had seen his season end against the Celtics, the first time in 2008. The 2010 defeat in Boston was James's last game with Cleveland; he left that summer for Miamiand the All-Star help that Wade and Chris Bosh could provide.
Wade was once again passive in Game 6, though he finished with a quiet 17 points. And Bosh is working his way back to full fitness after entering with five minutes left in the first quarter for his second game back after missing nine with a lower abdominal strain.
Still, regardless of how Wade or Bosh play, it appears James needs little help.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE