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LeBron James is no stranger to playing with everything on the line in Boston. For the third time in the past five years, James' team faces playoff elimination against the Celtics, on the road.
"It is fitting," James said. The first two times, James could not lift his Cleveland Cavaliers over the Celtics (in 2008 and 2010). Now as a member of the Heat's basketball triumvirate, James must exorcise his Boston demons so that Miami can host Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.
Boston took a 3-2 series lead on Tuesday with a 94-90 win in Miami, the first win by a road team in the series.
"I know how much pain this team has given me over the years," James said. "So I guess it's only right that we would be going up there in an elimination game. In order for us to keep our season going, we've got to win in their building. So that's what it's about."
Not that James is solely to blame for the Heat losing three straight to Boston after taking a 2-0 series lead. He is averaging 32 points and 10 rebounds a game in the Eastern Conference Finals on 50% shooting, a stat line befitting the three-time MVP.
But his occasional reluctance to attack the rim and tendency to fall in love with his jump shot have been two reasons Miami can't seem to keep a lead against Boston all of a sudden. Still, the Heat would gladly accept what they have received from James thus far. Chris Bosh's long return from an abdominal injury and the too streaky play of Dwyane Wade arguably have been more detrimental to the Heat lately than anything James has (or hasn't) done.
Miami's supporting cast has also come up short thus far in the series. Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and James Jones have combined to shoot 31% from downtown against Boston, compared to 39% during the regular season.
Miami has one chance to put these struggles behind it and win two games to extend its season. "No one said it was going to be easy," James said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge, me personally. I'm looking forward to it more than probably anyone on the team. So I'm going to lead these guys in the right direction, and hopefully it results in us winning."
The Heat face a long summer if they fail for the second straight year to win a championship. Even worse, if Boston eliminates Miami, then the team will have regressed from last season, when the Big Three came just two games away from an NBA title.
James, Wade and Bosh joined forces to win multiple championships, and they still say they are not burdened by their own lofty goals. "We got together, we want to compete for a championship, we want to win a championship every year," Wade said. "To us, it's not about outside expectations. It's our own expectations."
Game 6 is Thursday night at 8:30.