Rapid Reaction: Heat 98, C's 79 (Game 6)

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The Celtics had no answer for LeBron James in Game 6 at TD Garden.BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 98-79 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night at TD Garden. (The series is tied at 3.)


LeBron James erupted for 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting with 15 rebounds and 5 assists over 45 minutes. The only reason he left the floor was because the Heat had built an insurmountable lead to force a Game 7 back in Miami on Saturday. Dwyane Wade added 17 points, eight of which came in the final quarter to help put this game away. Rajon Rondo scored a team-high 21 points -- only two of which came after the intermission -- to go along with 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals over 40 minutes. No other Celtics starter had more than 12 points (both Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass reached that mark), while Paul Pierce had a mere nine points on cringe-worthy 4-of-18 shooting.


You can make the case that the Heat put this one away in the first quarter when James made 6-of-7 shots for 14 points and Miami built a double-digit lead that never sunk lower than 7 the rest of the way. The Celtics were still in striking distance entering the fourth quarter, but Wade hit a couple of quick baskets, then paired up with James on a little 8-0 run that pushed the lead to 89-64 with 7:15 to play. That was enough for Boston to wave the white flag and roll in the likes of Ryan Hollins, Sean Williams and Sasha Pavlovic in place of the Big Three.


The Celtics were desperately trying to mount a third-quarter run, but couldn't seem to get a 17-point deficit to single digits. Boston finally seemed to be making its charge after a nice hustle play by Rondo led to a second-chance layup (James got a technical for spiking the ball in frustration) and, after drawing a charge, Mickael Pietrus put back a Pierce miss to make it a 10-point game with under 3 minutes to play in the third quarter. But this was James' party. He calmly took down the shot clock at the other end of the floor and, working out of isolation, drained a cold-blooded 3-pointer from the top of the arc to put Miami out front 72-59. The Celtics never got to single digits in the frame and the game quickly got away from them.


The Celtics came out sloppy, missed easy looks (7-of-17, 41.2 percent), turned the ball over five times (leading to eight points) and let James get going early (6-of-7, 14 points). James nearly matched Boston's output (16-14) as the Heat (11-of-19, 57.9 percent) opened a double-digit cushion little more than 9 minutes in and led 26-16 after one frame.


James was unconscious in the first half, connecting on 12 of 14 shots -- his shot chart was ridiculous -- for 30 points. About the only thing he missed were four free throws. James' complete domination overshadowed a solid first half by Rondo, who scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting with five assists and three steals (he added two Garnett-inspired knuckle push-ups after taking a spill late in the half). Neither Rondo nor James left the floor in the half, but it was the Heat that owned a 55-42 advantage at the intermission.


A Celtics fan had a sign that read, "We're taking our talents to OKC." If that trek happens, it'll require a layover in South Beach. That's where Boston is headed Saturday for a decisive Game 7. Keeping with the theme of the Big Three era, the Celtics elected to use their mulligan, failing yet again to close out on the first attempt. More disappointing was the rather putrid effort put forth with a chance to punch a ticket to the NBA Finals. The Celtics will have to do it the tough way once again. And now Miami has the momentum and home-court advantage with a chance to win the Eastern Conference for the second straight season.