The two greatest NBA playoff performances I can remember in my lifetime are Michael Jordan’s 63-point game, the most ever in the postseason, on April 20, 1986, against the Hall of Fame-laden Boston Celtics; and Lakers rookie Magic Johnson starting at center for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, with Magic, a point guard by nature, putting up 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in winning his first championship.
Well, MJ and Magic, you now have company. Critics have hounded LeBron James his entire career as coming up small in big games. LeBron shut them up in a big way in Miami’s shockingly easy 98-79 victory at Boston in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to tie this series at 3-3. All James did was essentially win the game single-handedly, with 45 points (19-for-26 from the field), 15 rebounds and five assists, all team-highs, in forcing a Game 7 on Saturday night in Miami. It was only Miami’s second win in Boston in the past 17 visits.
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The winner Saturday travels to Oklahoma City for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday.
Celtics at Heat Betting Story Lines
How good was LeBron? He had 30 points in the first half (a playoff career high for a first half) on 12-for-14 shooting from the field. Frankly, the game was over after the first quarter when James had 14 points and the Heat had a 10-point lead that was never threatened. LeBron was only the second player in postseason history to have at least 45-15-5, with some guy named Wilt Chamberlain going 50-15-6 in the 1964 Western Division Finals against the St. Louis Hawks. James’ 73.1 percent from the field was his highest field-goal percentage in a postseason game.
And it’s not like LeBron got much help from teammates. Dwyane Wade was the only other player in double figures with 17 (he’s obviously playing hurt) on 6-for-17 shooting. The other 11 Heat players (Wade included) combined for just 29 rebounds, 10 assists and shot 18-for-50 from the field. A whopping 15 of James’ field goals were unassisted, meaning he simply went isolation most of the night. Those 15 unassisted field goals tied a career high. James also finally went to his post-up game, going 7-for-7 from the field on those, which are more field goals from the post than in the first five games combined.
Chris Bosh played 28 minutes in Game 6, double the total from his Game 5 return. He didn’t start but had seven points, six rebounds and three blocks and was plus-16. The Heat shot 24-for-45 (53.3 percent) with Bosh on the floor and just 13-for-31 (41.9 percent) with him on the bench.
For Boston, it was yet another example of this team lacking the killer instinct when it knows it has another potential game in hand. It’s the third straight time in this postseason alone that Boston has failed to put away a team in its first close-out chance. The C’s are now 11-14 in close-out games in the Big 3 era, although they had been 9-2 at home.
There wasn’t much positive to take from Game 6. The Celtics shot 42.7 from the field overall and 7.1 percent from long range (1-for-14). They were outrebounded by 10. The Celtics’ Big 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Piece and Ray Allen were the Little 3 in Game 6: They totaled just 31 points on 13-for-39 shooting. It was the trio’s fewest combined points in a playoff game since becoming teammates in the 2007-08 season. Pierce was especially bad with just nine of those points and shooting 0-for-6 from three-point range.
Rajon Rondo bounced back from an awful shooting game to lead Boston with 21 points (8-for-14 shooting) and 10 assists but also had seven turnovers. Frankly, it would have been a bigger blowout if not for Rondo.
Celtics at Heat Betting Odds and Key Trends
Miami opened as a 7.5-point favorite (same as it was in Games 2 and 5 in south Florida) with the total at 178 on NBA odds. The Heat are 6-3 ATS at home in these playoffs (dropped last two ATS) and 5-4 ‘over/under’. Celtics are 5-4 ATS on the road in postseason and 4-5 O/U.
Boston is 4-0 ATS in its past four after a loss and 13-3-1 in past 17 after an ATS loss. The over is 6-1 in Boston’s past seven games as a dog of at least five points. The over is 4-1 in Miami’s past five after a win. Boston is 4-1 ATS in the past five in Miami and has covered eight of 10 times overall vs. the Heat this season.
NBA Picks: Celtics at Heat Betting Predictions
Boston’s strategy is this series has been to double-team Wade and essentially make LeBron win the game alone. It was worked for the most part, especially in the first half of games as Wade is shooting 27 percent and averaging just 5.8 points in the first halves of this series. I don’t think one crazy LeBron game changes that.
While the NBA regular season is largely irrelevant, it sure means something now with the Heat hosting Game 7 (as it happens, they would have had to play at Chicago in a Game 7 if the Bulls had gotten this far, as expected, before Derrick Rose went down). All-time, home teams win Game 7 nearly 80 percent of the time. Before the Clippers won at Memphis in Game 7 of the first round, no road team had done so since Orlando at Boston in 2008. Of course, the Celtics had a Game 7 vs. Philly in the last round, while the Heat haven’t had one since LeBron joined the team.
Boston lacked energy and looked fatigued for some reason in Game 6. But the C’s usually can flip the switch. I’m not predicting the winner, but I do think Boston covers in a close, defensive game (i.e. under).
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