The Miami Heat, in the eyes of many, became the villainous symbol of trying to engineer a championship when announced he was forsaking Cleveland to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
If the union of James, Wade and Bosh was ever to be considered anything more than a soulless marriage of convenience, Miami would have to win a blood-and-guts game on the road against an opponent that had been the source of many nightmares for the Heat’s leading characters.
The Heat did that Monday by defeating Boston in overtime.
The Celtics regularly beat up on Bosh when he was with the Raptors; James’s and Wade’s failures in Boston are legendary.
In the third quarter of Game 3 Saturday, Wade wrestled Rajon Rondo to the floor and dislocated his left elbow. Rondo made a stirring return to start the fourth quarter, during which he stole the ball from Bosh and raced for a breakaway dunk as the Celtics cruised to a 97-81 victory.
On Monday, the gremlins in Boston appeared ready to strike again when James lost the ball with 19.5 seconds left and the score tied, 86-86.
As the Celtics were mapping out a play in a timeout, James and Wade stood near midcourt. Wade was giving James an earful. Given his headaches at TD Garden — Wade had lost 11 straight games — you could only imagine what he was saying: I’m tired of losing to these cats. Why can’t you pass the ball? You don’t always have to do it by yourself.
James, asked about the conversation, said: “D-Wade came to me and told me what he thought I should have did before I turned the ball over. Then we moved on.”
Wade, asked what he thought James should have done, laughed and said, “Nope, can’t say that.”
Paul Pierce missed a fall-away jumper at the end of regulation. In overtime, James buried a shot from deep in the corner with Pierce draped over him. Wade buried another clutch shot. Then Bosh made a spectacular tip-in to seal the victory and, in all likelihood, the series.
No one doubts the heart of the Celtics. Now, you cannot doubt Miami’s.
If the Heat closes out Boston on Wednesday, it will have earned the grudging respect of many fans still bristling over the way this team came together. James, Wade and Bosh have been scrutinized, doubted and scorned, and that will continue until they win a championship, perhaps two.
James never predicted that he would bring a title to South Beach; that assumption was made for him.
At a time when technology has embedded us in the moment as never before, it is difficult to consider the long-term implications and significance of a game or a play or a moment. But James and Wade knew there was something special about winning in Boston on Monday night.
“It was a huge game; I looked at it as probably one of the biggest games of my career,” James said. “D-Wade had lost 11 straight in this building, I haven’t had much success in this building, so we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to come out and do whatever it took to help our team win this ballgame.”
In sports, the most significant deeds of a championship season are not recorded on a statistical sheet. James is sensitive to this dimension of team sports.
After Game 4, Wade spoke about the attention that he and James received and their importance to winning a championship. “This team will go as far as us three take us,” Wade said.
James apparently felt compelled to discourage the perception that Miami was a two- or three-man team. He pointed out, for example, how Joel Anthony’s modest line — four rebounds, two blocked shots — did not tell the story of his contribution and how James Jones made a substantial contribution by taking charges.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on our team that don’t always show up in the box score as far as numbers,” James said. “They just don’t always get the glitz and the glamour, but we know how important they are to our team.”
With at least a month left in the grueling playoff season, Miami still has a long way to go. But with Monday’s victory in Boston, the Heat passed a significant milestone.