James dunked and danced Tuesday night, skipped around the court, nearly ripped down the rim and in one symbolic moment plowed through the ’ star point guard, leaving him dazed and distraught.
James was both dominant and merciless, scoring 35 points and leading a late charge that propelled the to a 102-91 victory and a 2-0 lead in this second-round series.
It was as demonstrative a performance as James has given, whether he was whooping at the crowd or skipping sideways down the court after a deep jumper in a late 14-0 run. Whenever he eased up, Dwyane Wade filled the gap, scoring 28 points.
This was not a night for bit players or unexpected scoring bursts from the bench. It was almost entirely about Wade and James, two of the most riveting players in the , and their ability to thoroughly outshine a team with three future Hall of Famers.
“They were terrific,” Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra said, “and used every bit of their talent tonight to help us win.”
The Celtics kept the game close for most of the night, despite shaky performances from their stars. But whenever Boston made a run, “we had some kind of emotional basket from one of the two of them,” Spoelstra said of Wade and James — “a dunk, a big play, a 3-point play, a drive to the rim to get fouled. LeBron was physically, mentally and emotionally tough for us tonight.”
There is no mistaking his motivation. James has been ushered out of the playoffs twice by Boston, including a second-round series last May that heralded the end of his career. Now he has a 2-0 lead against a team that, in its current form, has never faced that deficit.
“I don’t have any emotion right now,” James said afterward, adding, “This is what we wanted to do.”
The series resumes Saturday in Boston after a three-day mini-vacation that the Celtics seem to badly need. Paul Pierce injured his left Achilles tendon in the first quarter, although it was originally reported to be his left foot. Ray Allen had to leave the game briefly after getting his chest bruised by a James elbow. Rajon Rondo had back tightness and asked out of the game early in the fourth quarter.
“It was sketchy,” Celtics Coach said, adding, “It was tough for me out there, because I didn’t know who was healthy or who felt good out there.”
Whether because of injuries or the Heat’s stiff defense, the Celtics never got untracked. Pierce scored just 13 points. , who became a focal point of the offense, took a team-high 20 shots and made just 8, finishing with 16 points. Allen had just 7 points. Rondo was the Celtics’ only consistent performer, with 20 points and 12 assists.
Garnett had his best stretch with a 10-point third quarter, helping the Celtics turn a 7-point deficit into a brief 2-point lead.
Then James asserted his authority. He hit consecutive 3-pointers to take the lead back, then steamrolled Rondo on his way to a fast-break dunk. Rondo went head over heels near the foul line as the crowd roared and James soared.
In a stretch that bridged the third and fourth quarters, James scored 14 of the Heat’s 16 points and staked Miami to a 74-67 lead.
Boston tied the game one last time at 80-80 with 7 minutes 10 seconds to play. But the Celtics went scoreless for nearly four minutes as Miami put the game away with a 14-0 run, including 7 points from James.
By that point, the Celtics’ offense had gone stagnant.
“We got to get the ball to the right guys, and that’s always on me,” Rivers said.
Miami is the only high seed in the conference semifinals that has not lost its home-court advantage.
The Celtics have not faced a 2-0 deficit in a series since 2004, three years before Garnett and Allen arrived to support Pierce. This is as vulnerable as they have looked in four playoff runs.
“Being down, 2-0, doesn’t scare any of us, doesn’t make us nervous,” Allen said. “It’s just an opportunity to come out and shine.”
The latest prognosis was mixed. He took a major step Monday, scrimmaging for the first time in a month. But he was limping noticeably Tuesday, a sign that his injured calf is still an issue. “He looked great yesterday,” Doc Rivers said. “He went through the whole practice. He was phenomenal, actually. He had one stretch that was phenomenal, but then by the end of the practice, he was struggling walking.” Still, Rivers said it was likely that O’Neal would be ready for Game 3 on Saturday. He has not played in a game since April 3. Rivers said that O’Neal could be effective, regardless of the circumstances. “He’s still big,” Rivers said, “and height matters.” … Rather than hire a singer or musician, the Heat had the crowd sing the national anthem, in recognition of the successful mission to kill .