There is no question that LeBron James was the MVP of the 2011-12 regular season. Thursday night, not only did James show why he is the most valuable player in the league, but he proved that he can be the one thing his critics have proclaimed he could never be: clutch.
No, James didn’t bury a last-second three-pointer or sink a couple of game-changing free throws in the Miami Heat‘s Game 6 matchup against the Boston Celtics—those types of heroics weren’t needed. But the King was clutch in a different sense. This was an elimination game, on the road, in a season—his second in Miami since his infamous promise of winning “not five, not six, not seven” championships—where Dwyane Wade said it was “championship or bust.”
With their backs up against the wall and the media ready to pounce on James for missing out on yet another opportunity to win an NBA championship, James came out and gave arguably the greatest postseason performance of his career. The response was 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, a dismantling of the Celtics‘ D en route to a 98-79 victory for the Heat.
“He was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The way he approached the last 48 hours, and not only LeBron, but everybody else. Nobody likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you’re even dead. He showed great resolve.”
In short, this wasn’t the James everyone expected to see, the one who at times seems indifferent and is criticized for taking plays off. This was a James who demanded the ball in Kobe Bryant-like fashion and forced his will on the opposition. Granted, it was only Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, and it remains to be seen how he carries this momentum into Game 7.
But one thing is for sure, most, including Doc Rivers, are sick of hearing about how James can’t perform in big games.
“I hope now you guys will stop talking about LeBron and that he doesn’t play in big games,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “He was pretty good tonight. Now that’s to bed. We can go ahead and play Game 7.”