It was June 7, 2012. The Boston Celtics were hosting the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Lebron found himself being down 3-2 and having to win in front of the sellout crowd in TD Garden. The odds weren’t in his favor.
Just a year after his crushing loss to the Dallas Mavericks, he was in a situation where his big 3 experiments with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were setting up to fail again. Reports told that if the Heat lost that series it could have been the end of that team. But he didn’t let that happen.
He was well aware of who he was facing. The Celtics veteran group led by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo in his prime that eliminated him more than once in his Cleveland days was in front of him. But only this time he was more experienced and determined to eliminate them.
No athlete had ever been under as much pressure to win a championship, let alone a single game. LeBron hadn’t uttered a word since the Game 5 loss. Not to his coaches. Not to his teammates. The chatter went as follows: He stood on the edge of the worst professional embarrassment in the modern sports era. He lacked the “killer instinct” of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. How could LeBron be the best player in the world without a portfolio to match? It’s easy to minimize now, but back then, outside of Miami, much of the basketball world truly wished for James’ demise.
But LeBron didn’t care for that. With 19 000 fans raging around him he went on a mission. The game plan was simple: Regardless of the play called, it had to end up in a LeBron post-up or isolation. It was going to have to be LeBron behind the wheel. Wade, Bosh, and the rest of the Heat fully committed to the blueprint.
James displayed a diverse combination of buckets. Tomahawk dunks running downhill. Fadeaway jumpers over Pierce. Baseline jumpers over Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus. Fast-break and-1s carrying Greg Stiemsma with him, and floaters over Garnett and Pierce. James did it all without a smile or anything else that would suggest he had a conscience that night. He finished the night with 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Heat would blow out the Celtics 98-79 and tie the series 3-3.
Heat assistant coach at the time David Fizdale said: “That was his moment of, ‘Yeah, I’m the greatest player in this league and I’m not letting anybody get in my way of a title. The Heat won Game 7, with Wade scoring 23 points and Bosh coming off the bench for 19. James finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds. Weeks later, the Heat and, in particular, James found the championship they desperately sought by defeating a young Oklahoma City Thunder squad led by its own three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.