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Celtics-Heat Game 6: LeBron crashes his own funeral

Jun 8, 2012, 10:06 AM EDT

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game Six

“He’s not smiling.”

I made that remark to my wife Thursday night as the Heat took the floor for Game 6 in Boston when I saw LeBron James, a serious, almost somber look on his face. James is a known “happy-go-fun” guy, often to the annoyance of teammates and opponents. Sure, he tries to look serious during parts of the game, but usually it’s more of a blank look. On Thursday, he looked downright dour, and it was easy to make the jump to conclusions that he had arrived for his own public funeral, the “we come to bury LeBron, not to praise him” event of the century, a Boston Mean Party. I took it as a sign he knew it was over, the series was done, the Celtics had won, he had failed again.

I was wrong. 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists. 98-79 Miami over Boston.  See you on South Beach for Game 7 Saturday.

It wasn’t a cold-blooded performance. That would imply that he felt nothing. And as much as an exhausted James attempted to downplay any change of motivation, to say he just went back to his habits, this one felt different. He wasn’t seething with anger, he wasn’t rioting against the Celtics’ harassment and mocking of him throughout this series (which James would have been crucified for but what else is new). He wasn’t frontrunning or showing them up. This wasn’t M.J.’s shrug or Magic’s exuberance, or Bird’s fury.

You got the sense as James calmly and determinedly went back to work on defense after every make, every bucket that this wasn’t LeBron vs. the Celtics, or even LeBron vs. the World. He was withdrawn, as if fuming at himself for any moment where he felt happiness at shots going down. “Can’t stop” was the message. And after the game, after dropping 45 points on 26 shots, 15 rebounds, and having left Paul Pierce a shattered, sad, broken mess of the offensive juggernaut he is, there was no smile or satisfaction from James in post-game interviews.  He wasn’t talking about what a great win it was. He was cold, resigned. “We had to win this game.” That was the message.

And while I have no choice but to believe James will revert to the pompous, pouting child he comes across as (and make no mistake, I consider this to be a problem in portraying himself to the world; I have no idea who James is on the inside, I’m not sure anyone does), whether the Heat win or lose Game 7. Win, and there’s a risk he could feel that he accomplished something when he hasn’t, lose and he could turn defiant that he can be knocked off his pedestal, the way he was in last year’s Finals after elimination, talking about people going back to their lives.

But for a night, it was there. All of it. Honestly, James could have played better. Those five assists are on the low side. I’m not criticizing. I’m pointing out how insane that is. He scored 45 points on 26 shots against the best defense in the NBA, had 15 rebounds, and leveled Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett defensively and he could have played better. That is insane, but then, his night was insane, his season has been insane, his life has been insane.

There were two that got me, both in the third. He waited for Rondo to reach, spun, and then, instead of trying what he normally does, which is to barrel into Kevin Garnett and attempt a rolling scoop shot around KG, he quick-shot a floater just over Paul Pierce’s outstretched arms. Perfect.

Later in the third, he caught the ball in the shallow post vs. Rondo on the baseline. How many times have I seen him catch that, face-up, and then take five seconds trying to figure out the defense before shooting a face-up fadeaway? Granted, last night he would have hit the fadeaway. Hell, he would have hit the fadeaway if he was on the moon. But instead he immediately caught and spun. It was a fadeaway, but it was in rhythm. It was decisive.

He ran back on defense and went back to work. The game was over. He was not through.

So now we wait for Game 7, and another chance for James to make all of our vitriolic dreams come true or ascend to this next level of greatness he can aspire to. We wait to see how the Celtics respond to being embarrassed, how the Heat respond when they have to help James out, and most importantly we wait to see which LeBron James we get.

I’ll tell you one thing, if he’s not smiling in Game 7, we’re gonna need reinforcements.

  1. infectorman - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    Once I saw the red uniforms and the look on his face, I thought…”trouble”…

    SICK! As a Boston fan, it was crushing to watch,.

    As a Basketball fan, it as AWESOME!!!

    • blueintown - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:36 AM

      I hope everyone reads this post a hundred times. Loving your team and wanting them to win is great. But if you don’t love watching LeBron James play this game, then you just don’t like basketball. Period.

      • rufe - Jun 8, 2012 at 4:06 PM

        Lebron James is a punk. The saying goes “Win like a champion, lose like a champion”. He has done neither. Until he atones for his immature behavior after losing (which he still has’nt, admitting he was wrong) he will always be a punk. I was a huge fan until that moment.

      • blueintown - Jun 8, 2012 at 4:19 PM

        Spare me your sophomoric idioms. I’m talking about a game, not the content of his character. That’s a judgement I’ll reserve and you should too considering you know LeBron James the person as well as I do. If you don’t love watching him play, then stop watching basketball because you just don’t understand it. Even his most ardent detractors (see: gmen below) will tell you that.

    • gmen4life33 - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:57 AM

      LBJ was SICK last night. Never seen him so locked in. I knew it was over when they were up by like 15, but LBJ still switched positions w/Haslem after KG’s 1st FT (so he could box out) and then yelled at Wade to switch and come box out too. He was so focused he wanted to make sure the 2 best players were in position for a possible rebound off a FT, even when they were up big.

      And there was no standing around for LBJ, he was cutting hard or going to the ball the entire game. Hate the Heat with a passion, but LBJ was I am Legend good last night, fun to watch.

    • namriverrat69 - Jun 8, 2012 at 11:14 PM

      Not to worry. Both James and Wade shot their wads in game 6. They won’t show up in game 7.

      • nabby04 - Jun 9, 2012 at 11:09 AM

        Really, your comment could not be any more dumb. Wade shot his wad? He was terrible again. He is due. As for Lebron shooting his “wad”, well that’s debatable as he had a game like this against Indiana, also. The same haters said the same thing you just said then, too. Plus,even if James plays to his averages, that is still everyone else (not named Durant) shooting their wads, too. If Wade plays like he is capable of, the series goes to the Heat.

  2. rodge1 - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    Saturday is going to be a great battle. This is what the playoffs are all about.

    • polegojim - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:01 PM

      IF LeBron puts up back to back, I agree.

      • gmsingh - Jun 9, 2012 at 7:38 AM

        How do so many people get sucked into the hype of thinking either LeBron or Wade will play two great games back to back ever?

  3. dgbk - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    that was a great performance by james to carry “cavs south.” There was nothin the celts could do but hope spo sat him down while they made a run.. For the heat to win a title he will need atleast three or four more games like that… The Heat are getting nothing from wade and bosh probably wont be alright to next season.

  4. Kiwi - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    “He’s not Smiling” I love it!
    My exact words!

    Miami showed how capable they are, if they want it, enough said.

    • nabby04 - Jun 9, 2012 at 11:10 AM

      Well, James did anyhow. Wade needs to start pulling his weight.

  5. scalfor3 - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    i noticed his demeanor too. most focused i’ve ever seen him. i dont think he talked the entire game. every time he hit a shot, he just ran back down the court with the same determined look on his face. dude simply wasn’t gonna lose that night.

  6. heat256 - Jun 8, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Enjoy it for what it was. He isn’t MJ, as much as people try to make him out to be. Kobe isn’t either, and it means so much to him he will sabotage his own team’s future for that goal. James is James, a kid who loves the game but is probably confused and I’d say irritated no matter what he does he is reviled. Read Rick Reilly’s column at ESPN on LeBron, which is actually good and I think Reilly is a gasbag. He’s simply hated for stupid basketball reasons and judgements none of us are qualified to give out. He’s a model citizen, a loving father, husband and son. Yet he’s treated like he runs over children and kittens daily with a manical laugh. He’s a stronger man than I. I’m sure I’d have lashed out and straight up punched someone by now.

    • condor75 - Jun 8, 2012 at 12:48 PM

      GET OFF THE MAN’S ASS. DAMN. IT IS PITIFUL HOW MANY H8RS ARE HERE. Look you don’t have to like him, don’t have to like the Heat, but there is very little you can say bad about he guys game. Nope he isn’t MJ, why would he need to be, he is the best player in the NBA , period. Sad, sad people. Well u can look forward to your boring office Xmas parties I guess

  7. decimusprime - Jun 8, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    If played with that demeanor every time he stepped on the court, every game, every play, he would have not 1…not 2…etc rings and be in the MJ/Kobe top 1% of the all-time greats. Too bad he just doesn’t.

    • condor75 - Jun 8, 2012 at 12:50 PM

      lets see he was averaging 31 points a game, BEFORE last night. And you average how many, yeah thought so. Hey i think you need more H8rade, you are running low, pitiful, just pitiful

      • nabby04 - Jun 9, 2012 at 11:12 AM

        Well said. The guy is averaging 30 and 10 on great shooting for the playoffs…The whole freaking playoffs. Not just one series. These guys have such unrealistic expectations for James it isn’t funny.

  8. j0esixpack - Jun 8, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    Yup. Credit where credit is due. He manned up for that game

  9. truthhurtstoo - Jun 8, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    The old creakers don’t stand a chance with his game face on…

  10. packhawk04 - Jun 8, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    Great game by james. Its too bad he will be blamed if they dont win it all regardless of what he does. I think when the pressure is on, he just thinks too much. There was no pressure last night. Everyone assumed the celts would win. Game 7 will be a good one.

  11. diamondmo33 - Jun 8, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    Heat in 7.

  12. mungman69 - Jun 8, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    James is the best. But until he wins the big one people will put him down.

  13. simonwelds - Jun 8, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    Lebron did what all the greats do, he figured out no matter who else is wide open, he will always be the best option… No crying to the refs, no trying to please teammates, just straight up killer instinct basketball… The reason he had only 5 assists is because there’s no reason to pass when u can play like that….ask Kobe, ask micheal

  14. diablito0402 - Jun 8, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    Lbj played great, i give him much ups, but still, its like taking a pig to the slaughter house with OKC waiting!!

  15. mikejd12 - Jun 8, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    Where’s that hater dirtybird!!!! Hiding in his cage

  16. biggestredmiami - Jun 8, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    LeBron James is the best basketball player ever. If you put LeBron in Jordan’s era, he would have won without Scottie, Rodman, and all of the other guys throughout the years. You can’t compare anyone to LeBron skill-wise. He will eventually get a championship, but for most of you that won’t be good enough because it’s not 6 rings. Robert Horry won 7 rings, does that make him better than Jordan? Robert Horry may have been the best clutch-shooter of all time too (!), does that make him better than LeBron? Jordan did not have the pressure to win a championship like LeBron did and could play care-free. When Jordan got to the league, everyone knew he’d be a star, but no one ever said he had to be the greatest basketball player ever. LeBron had Nike throw out 100 mill at him and Cleveland said he was their savior. Jordan may have been able to play games and close with pressure on him, but LeBron has to try and close with the pressure of his name, reputation, and hype from 10 years ago on the line every single game. Stop hating and grow up. Rondo would suck if he had no one to pass to and Jordan was 1-9 in the playoffs till the Bulls drafted Scottie. Respect LeBron James for what he is and move on with your lives.

  17. asublimeday - Jun 8, 2012 at 5:18 PM

    It was never about Boston. He’s going to get housed by the thunder. They just have too much for his one-man show.

  18. veinsofgod - Jun 8, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    Matt, quick rant here because I notice columnists and bloggers love to subtly defend James with comments like “he’d be crucified if he did”. You guys thumbs up if you agree…if not its cool.

    Rational fans can’t stand Lebron for a number of reasons. Much to the contrary of many bloggers’ opinions it isn’t simply the “Decision”. People like to chalk it up to that. I used to genuinely like Lebron and rooted for him in the playoffs sometimes. I though the city of Cleveland deserved a winner. I starte to lose my taste for him after self-gratifying comment after self-gratifying comment. This is all in the context of him being a self-proclaimed “king”. Then he spurned the city in which he was beloved and basically rubbed their noses in it. Then he basically told all 29 other fan bases to go bury their heads in the sand and give up hope because his new team was going dynasty mode. How are we supposed to like that? Most of us are fans of our teams. Then he publicly mocked hard-working America by saying that we all had to go about our miserable lives. How am I not going to revel in his failures? In short, the scrutiny he plays under is unmatched because he made it that way. Stop feeling sorry for him. Lebron cares about Lebron, you can tell in the way he refers to himself in third person. This is why we celebrate when guys like Dirk or Duncan win rings, because they earned it with humility and heart. They didn’t act like it was owed to them.

    If you’re not a Heat fan but you still love Lebron, wake up. This guy doesn’t care about his fans. He only cares about himself and that’s all that matters to him. You’d be a fool to say otherwise because I can cite so many times that he has publicly elevated himself over the rest of the world. Rational fans don’t doubt his greatness as a player, we just don’t like being insulted as human beings by overpaid clowns that have been told how great they are all their lives. Thanks for reading. Love the website.

    • blueintown - Jun 8, 2012 at 6:11 PM

      I love LeBron Because I love great basketball. I don’t see any evidence that suggests he abhors the fans. But if he does, who cares? I could care less how he feels about the people who watch him, how he feels about me personally in general, what he says about people going to work and living their lives, how he “deceived” the people in a city that I’ve been to once and have no desire to ever go back to again, or what he said about a desire to win multiple championships. All of that crap falls under a giant “who gives a damn” umbrella.

      I love LeBron James because I love basketball and I am astounded at the skill set of this 6’8″ 250 lb. freight train. Not once in your entire rant did you actually say anything about basketball. That’s what this is about. The game on the court. Stop trying to make it about everything BUT that.

  19. 91devinhester23 - Jun 8, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    as a lebron hater.. if he played like this all the time, dropping 45 all business no taunting no flopping in a put up or shut up game, he wouldn’t have any haters

  20. veinsofgod - Jun 8, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    Blueintown I agree with you that he is sensational to watch. I’m simply trying to answer the question of why he has so many “haters” and detractors. You’re right…the hate should have nothing to do with his game.

  21. schaffershokai - Jun 8, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    He’s gonna have to pick up on his game this season or he’s gonna wind up like this: http://youtu.be/zHteSbrZZ5U

  22. bleed4philly - Jun 8, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    McNabb tried smiling and look where it got him.

  23. fanz928 - Jun 8, 2012 at 10:14 PM

    Haters gone be haters lebron is a beast respect it

  24. veinsofgod - Jun 8, 2012 at 11:14 PM

    Everyone respects what darth vader can do with a light saber. But no one roots for him. Why? That’s my answer to why there are Lebron “haters”. The man is clearly the best…but I don’t have to like it. No offense to anyone.

    • blueintown - Jun 9, 2012 at 12:21 PM

      This isn’t about intergalactic domination. It’s about basketball. I get where you’re coming from. I’ve been there. I’ve been the meatball sports fan. What I recommend is shoving all of the peripheral things to the side (i.e. “personal” feelings about the player or players, team allegiances, etc.) and just enjoying basketball for what is it: basketball. It’s very liberating in that it enables you to recognize and appreciate the subtle nuances of the game that you wouldn’t normally see when constantly encompassed with white hot blinding rage. From an objective analytical standpoint, this series is a basketball-lovers dream being played out by two ultra-competitive squads (one undoubtedly being more top-to-bottom talented than the other), and it is an absolutely beautiful thing to watch.

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