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The Miami Heat needed a huge performance from LeBron James, and got more than anyone could have even hoped for. James scored 45 points, the most in one game by anyone in the 2012 NBA playoffs, as the Heat beat the Boston Celtics 98-79.
James added 15 rebounds and 6 assists, shooting 19 of 26 in 44 minutes Thursday night. He did not even take a break until 3:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, when coach Erik Spoelstra pulled him with a 22-point lead. Only once before has a player put up 45, 15, and 5 in a playoff game, when Wilt Chamberlain did it for the San Francisco Warriors.
James only took three shots at the rim, but most of his shots come within 15 feet of the basket, where he is among the most accurate in the NBA. The Heat created mismatches with pick-and-rolls, and James went to the post to utilize his size advantage. It was the 11th 40-point playoff performance of James' career.
Dwyane Wade scored 17 points, though he shot only 6 of 17 from the field. Chris Bosh did not start, but played 28 minutes off the bench and scored 7 points. He also blocked 3 shots and grabbed 6 rebounds.
Rajon Rondo led Boston with 21 points and 10 assists, but committed 7 turnovers. Kevin Garnett played his quietest game of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 12 points with 5 rebounds. Paul Pierce shot just 4 of 18, vanishing to the same degree that James stole the spotlight.
The Celtics looked fatigued much of the game. Boston shot 50 percent in the first half, but just 37 percent in the second half. As a team Boston missed five shots at the rim and shot 1 of 14 from 3-point range, both signs of tired legs.
The Heat jumped to a 26-16 lead in the first quarter, with James scoring 12 points. By halftime he had 24 points and 5 rebounds and the Heat led 55-42. Miami held Boston at bay in the third quarter, not allowing their lead to fall below 10 points.
Then the Heat blew past the Celtics in the fourth quarter, growing their lead as large as 23 points. Fans started leaving the TD Garden in Boston with seven minutes to go and their Celtics down 22 points.
The only thing that kept James from scoring even more points was the fact that Miami's lead meant James could slow down the pace of play in the fourth quarter and only attempt four shots. It also gave him an early trip to the bench once the game was iced.
Now the Heat are coming home with an opportunity to win the Eastern Conference Finals in a decisive Game 7. Miami will host Game 7 at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.