By ANDRE KHATCHATURIAN
BOSTON — If you ever had the notion cross your head that LeBron James wasn’t clutch, think again.
LeBron turned in a playoff-high 45 points to add on to an already spectacular 2012 playoffs resume as the Miami Heat romped pass the Celtics in Game 6, 98-79, to force a Game 7 in South Beach on Saturday.
James had averaged 29.9 points and 9.1 rebounds coming into Thursday night’s action, but he took it to the next level during a high pressure elimination game, making 19 of his 26 shots and also grabbing 15 boards in 45 minutes of play.
James rose to the occasion and avoided the scrutiny he receives usually after a loss for at least one more game.
A loss tonight and the nation would not have heard the end of it. LeBron’s determination on his face exemplified his awareness regarding the situation he was in and his control over every aspect of the game showed he was in no mood for an early vacation.
Instead, James scored his 11th career 40-point playoff game, which is second most among active players.
The victory snapped a three-game skid for the Heat, who dropped both Games 3 and 4 in Boston and Game 5 at home.
The win means that Game 7 will be played at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, where the Heat have been 7-2 in this year’s playoffs and 28-5 during the regular season.
The Heat jumped out to a 6-4 lead early in the first quarter off a Shane Battier three-pointer. It was all LeBron after that as the Heat never looked back and led the rest of the way.
The Celtics made an attempt to keep things close, but LeBron’s 30 first-half points helped give the Heat a comfortable 55-42 lead at halftime.
The second half would be more of the same. The Heat took a 25-point lead with 7:11 remaining in the fourth quarter off a dazzling James lay-up. This was their biggest lead of the night.
The Celtics were not able to cut the lead to single-digits in the second half as fans at the TD Garden who were anticipating an NBA Finals berth for a chance to play against the Oklahoma City Thunder, left home early.
Boston received balanced scoring all around. Rajon Rondo led the way with 21 points and 10 assists, but also had seven turnovers and was a minus-25. Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass each had 12, and Ray Allen added 10.
That being said, the story behind the Celtics’ struggles came from beyond the arc. They collectively shot 1-for-14 from downtown compared to Miami, who shot 7-for-16.
Despite his dominating performance, James received little help from his teammates offensively. The league MVP who signed with the Heat to be surrounded by All-Stars was on his own, in what seemed like a game straight from his Cleveland Cavaliers days.
Other than Dwyane Wade, no one else on the Heat scored in double digits. Wade scored 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting, and he also grabbed eight rebounds.
Chris Bosh, in his second game back from a lower abdominal muscle strain, came off the bench once again and added seven points and six rebounds in 28 minutes. Bosh was also a plus-16 on the floor.
Bosh’s return to the lineup gave the Heat a size advantage they have not had throughout the series. They outrebounded Boston 44-34.
Saturday’s game will be the second Game 7 in this year’s playoffs for the Celtics, who defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. It will be the first one for Miami since they lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2009 playoffs.
This will also be LeBron James’ second career Game 7.
LeBron’s Cavaliers played the Celtics in a Game 7 back in the second round of the 2008 playoffs. The Celtics won the game at home and went on to win their 17th NBA championship.