May 10, 2011, 11:03 AM EDT
James Bond movies are only as good as the villain — unless there is someone who pushes Bond to new extremes, his victory is hollow. (Well, except for all the hot Bond girls.)
That need for the hero to have to reach new heights is true of all drama. It is true of sports. What is Muhammad Ali without Joe Frazier and George Forman? Magic without Bird (or Bird without Magic)? Even Michael Jordan had to get over the hurdle of the Bad Boy Pistons before he could become a legend.
For LeBron James, that has been the Celtics. His career had always seemed to fall short — it’s why he left Cleveland — and the Celtics had caused that demise two of the last three years (including last season when Clevelanders are convinced LeBron quit on them). While other teams had beaten him too, the Celtics had come to symbolize the mountain he had to climb.
And he almost did not scale it Monday — he made the amazing jumpstop layup in the final minute to give the Heat a short-lived lead, but after that was stripped by Ray Allen giving the Celtics a final chance to win in regulation. They blew it. Given a second chance in overtime, James did not.
He sounded relieved and excited after the game, as reported by Ian Thompson at Sports Illustrated.
“I looked at it as one of the biggest games of my career,” said James. “Me and D-Wade had a lot of conversation after Game 3 all the way to the tip-off today about how important this game is. I heard a stat that D-Wade had lost 11 straight in this building. I haven’t had much success in this building. So we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to try to do whatever it took to help our team win this ballgame.”
There is a long way to go. Unlike the Lakers, the Celtics are not going to roll over and die in their closeout game. They will play harder and better than they have all series. Then there will be the conference finals, then the finals. None of it easy, most of it harder than this.
But for LeBron, it’s feeling like a breakthrough.
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