By Shandel Richardson, Sun Sentinel –
MIAMI — It was inevitable for it come to this.
Forget that the Miami Heat have won just once in their past 16 trips to Boston. Ignore that they have lost three straight to the Celtics in this year’s Eastern Conference finals.
The story line, as always with the Heat, is can LeBron James succeed in pressure situations.
The fact his teams are just 2-6 throughout his career in games they have faced elimination trumps all other trends. James gets the opportunity to improve that record when the Heat face the Celtics in Game 6 Thursday at TD Garden.
Boston holds a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
A win gives James another chance to bolster his reputation in Game 7. A loss pushes him further into the realm of being labeled as a player who fails to come through in the clutch.
Fair or unfair, it’s always the way James will be judged.
“You don’t need much motivation right now,” James said. “It is what it is. You win and you bring it back here or you go home. It’s that simple.”
James could find himself in new territory if the Heat are able to win Game 6. It would mark the first time he’s won on an opponent’s home court when facing elimination.
His lone two victories in these situations came at home when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, defeating the Celtics and Orlando Magic in Game 6 of the conference finals in 2008 and 2009. The Cavs went on to lose both series.
James says he won’t let past failures affect how he approaches another opportunity to prove he can produce in moments like these.
“I’m going to go into the game knowing that I got to try to make plays to help our team win and not put too much pressure on myself,” James said.
“I understand what I do for our team. I won’t be satisfied with that because I know how hard I play.”
James has always taken the bulk of the criticism for his team’s failures. It is perhaps even more heightened now because the Heat are struggling despite having three of the league’s best players.
After three consecutive losses in the series, it is not guard Dwyane Wade or forward Chris Bosh hearing it from the critics.
Wade has a championship to silence the pundits while Bosh is still recovering after missing the past nine games with a strained abdominal muscle.
As for James, he’s one of the few NBA players who can be under fire despite collecting a third regular-season most valuable player trophy and averaging 29.9 points and 9.1 rebounds in the postseason.
He played well in Game 5, finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds.
Still, he’s likely to be remembered for an eight-minute scoreless stretch in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a team sport,” Bosh said.
“Guys have to realize it’s a team sport. It’s not just one thing. They can’t throw LeBron in the pot and be like, ‘What is it with him?’ He’s had 40 points and they (the Cavaliers) got eliminated in (2008). It’s a team sport. We have to do this together. … You can’t just single him out.”
James will have to get past his playoff nemesis and ultimately win a championship before changing the perception. If the Heat lose Thursday, it will mark the third time in five years James has been eliminated from the postseason by Boston.
“They definitely come up,” James said. “Of course, it’s human for them to come up. But you got to approach (Thursday) like it’s its own and we look forward to the challenge. I know I do.”
The Heat’s lone win at Boston during their forgettable 16-game stretch came in Game 4 of last year’s conference semifinals. James was the hero with 35 points and 14 rebounds. The circumstances were different then, with the Heat entering that game ahead 2-1 in the series.
Now, a performance as such from James is not a bonus. It’s a necessity.
“I feel confident,” James said. “I feel confident that we can go up and get one. We’re focusing on Game 6 in this series. That’s what it’s all about.”