TORONTO - LeBron James answered his legion of critics with his sublime 45 point, 15 rebound effort in Game 6 in Boston, but he’ll need to come up big again on Saturday night in Miami to finally shut everybody up.
James, coming out with a rare chip on his shoulder and a take-no-prisoners approach that has been largely absent in the past, did whatever he wanted against Celtics defenders big and small.
He toyed with Paul Pierce, made tough shots over Mickael Pietrus, was too quick for Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass and was too big and strong for Rajon Rondo.
This was the LeBron everyone (even many of those detractors) had wanted to see for years.
Part of the joy of watching sports is to see the greatest athletes on the planet do great things. Few things chafe fans like wasted potential.
Too often, James, who based on appearance and skill should be unstoppable, has underwhelmed in big moments, particularly against the Celtics.
But this was a different James, a snarly, me against the world, untouchable version.
Be afraid Boston, be very afraid.
“I hope now you guys can stop talking about LeBron and that he doesn’t play in big games,” Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said afterwards. “Now that’s to bed.”
Not quite though. One more big effort with the season on the line will do the trick.
He’ll need some help. Dwyane Wade needs to wake up and show why he has been one of the NBA’s top 10 players the past seven years and Miami again needs to bring it defensively.
The Heat forced turnovers and kept Boston to sub-43% shooting. These Celtics are not going to go away. They’ve proven that. The offence will look more fluid largely because Pierce will be far better, of that we’re certain.
So it’s on James — and, to a lesser extent, Wade — to be a notch above.
And to exorcise a few more demons in the process.
For the seventh time since assembling, the Celtics’ Big Three will play a Game 7.
It likely will be their last as teammates since Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett will both become free agents on July 1st. Garnett likely will return, but Allen’s future is far more dicey.
Boston has gone 4-2 in its previous Game 7s with Garnett, Allen and Pierce and one of the losses came the only other time it played for all the marbles on the road.
The Celtics dropped that one, giving the Los Angeles Lakers the 2010 title.
Expect history to repeat itself, though head coach Doc Rivers expects otherwise.
Rivers told his team to pack not only for Miami, but for Oklahoma City as well.
The NBA finals start there on Tuesday.
LET THEM PLAY
The NBA changed its draft combine a few years ago because too many players were ducking the 5-on-5 scrimmages. Now, ridiculously, too many players are skipping the simple drills.
It makes sense for the top guys to do so, the ones who already have multiple teams in love with them, but how does a guy like Jeremy Lamb, who’d shine in shooting and ball-handling drills decide that skipping them makes sense?
The answer: His agent tells him to and that’s too bad. A lot of players who would help their stock aren’t participating and it ends up looking bad on them.
According to observers a couple of the players who made great impressions at the combine were Mississauga’s Andrew Nicholson, who could creep as high as the late lottery and Weber State point guard Damian Lillard, who has been connected to the Raptors.
Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo says the Raptors have not promised to select Syracuse guard Dion Waiters with the No. 8 spot. Waiters pulled out of all draft workouts without explanation.
The Raptors plan to start bringing in players for individual workouts starting next Tuesday. Who will attend is not certain and is subject to change, but Duke’s Austin Rivers is expected in on Friday.
CANADA’S FUTURE SHINES
As expected, there was a considerable amount of talent on display at Canada’s junior men’s national team intra-squad game at Humber College on Thursday evening.
Toronto’s Andrew Wiggins, considered the best prospect this country has ever produced, was not looking to dominate, but flashed his mammoth potential on many occasions. Whether soaring above the rim, shooting from deep or finishing off a floater created by a series of jab steps, it’s clear Wiggins isn’t a product of hype.
Wiggins said he is looking forward to leading Canada for the first time later this month in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Brazil.
Saskatchewan-born Trey Lyles, who is even younger than Wiggins and sits only a few spots lower in the high school rankings, also at times looked impressive, even though it was his first game action with the team.
The 6-foot-9 forward prefers to handle the ball and shoot from outside instead of going down low, but once he bulks up a bit and develops his back-to-the-basket game, he’ll be a force.
AROUND THE RIM
A couple of restricted free agents hope to stay put. Indiana centre Roy Hibbert told the AP on Thursday: “I want to make sure that everyone knows I love Indiana.” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said Hibbert, “is not going anywhere.” ... According to Yahoo! Sports, former Portland GM Kevin Pritchard will soon be promoted to Indiana GM, replacing David Morway. Morway has done strong work in Indiana, but Pritchard is a former teammate of Pacers boss Larry Bird … Chicago power forward Taj Gibson, one of the league’s most underrated defenders, is not a restricted free agent until next season, but told ESPN: “It’s not in my head to leave Chicago because I love playing for the Bulls.” The Bulls need to re-sign backup centre Omer Asik, who is restricted this season and have Carlos Boozer taking up a substantial chunk of the payroll which could make retaining Gibson difficult.