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Heat-Celtics Game 7 preview: Can LeBron James do it again?

By Ben Golliver | Blogger
After a sensational Game 6, LeBron James looks to eliminate the Boston Celtics in Game 7. (Getty Images)

Previewing Game 7 between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.

1. Where We're At:
The Heat and Celtics are tied up at three games apiece after Miami went into TD Garden on Thursday night and emerged with a dominating 98-79 victory. The glory, of course, goes to LeBron James, who scored 30 points in the first half en route to a 45-point performance for the ages. Miami is currently 7-2 at home during the postseason; Boston is 3-6 on the road in these playoffs.

2. The Big Number: 33.6. That's the percentage Celtics forward Paul Pierce is shooting from the field against Miami through six games. His shooting lines have been stunning in their consistency and inefficiency: he's shot betwen 18 and 21 times in each game against Miami and made between four and eight. Those numbers continue a steady slide for a player who went from 44.3 percent in the regular season, to 42.9 percent in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks to 40.2 percent in the second round against the Philadelphia 76ers. He's dealt with a balky knee and a series of difficult match-ups but the numbers are the numbers and they put added pressure on Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett to pick up the slack. Pierce's saving grace has been that Heat guard Dwyane Wade has struggled through some off night and hasn't his A-level offensive game that he unleashed during Games 4, 5 and 6 against the Pacers. The upside for Pierce, as he showed with a Game 5 dagger 3-pointer over LeBron James, is that sometimes it only takes one shot to impact a result.

3. Key Adjustment: The match-up to watch, as it has been over the last two games, is Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh and company. Garnett had by far his least effective game in Game 6, scoring 12 points and 5 rebounds. CBSSports.com's Matt Moore broke down some of the ways that Miami limited him, which included sending extra help and using Bosh's length to challenge and alter his catches and shots in ways the Heat weren't able to earlier in the series. Garnett has been his team's heart, soul and backbone -- while Rondo has been the motor -- and he's managed three 20/10 nights so far in this series. A fourth would go a long way to helping Boston spring the upset.

4. The Big Story: LeBron. LeBron. LeBron. Celtics coach Doc Rivers made the case in his post-Game 6 comments that James had put to bed all the questions about his big game ability with his Thursday night explosion. He certainly silenced the critics for a few days with his play and, afterwards, he stated clearly that planned to leave Game 7 with no regrets. A statement such as that made clear how high his internal expectations are this season. There will certainly be many observers who will seek to undercut his Game 6 performance should he falter in Game 7, especially if he doesn't dominate the late-game play and returns to the passive style he displayed in the Game 5 loss.

Seriously: What happens if he struggles with his shooting stroke and they lose, effectively taking a step back from last year? How loud are the questions? How personal are the attacks? Put simply, every step from here on out in these playoffs is a legacy-building step for James. He knows that, even if he's repeated time and again that he's tuning out all the outside noise. James doesn't need to (and won't strive to) repeat his Game 6 line of 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists. But he'll need to be big, very big, or a whole will come tumbling down.

5. The Facts: 8:30 p.m. ET tip off on Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Celtics guard Ray Allen (ankle) will play after chatter earlier in the series that he might need some time off. Heat forward Chris Bosh (abdominal strain) will play after returning from a long-term absence in Game 5. It's not yet known whether he will start or come off the bench. Heat reserve big man Ronny Turiaf has been dealing with a groin injury but he's not expected to play anything more than a minor role with Bosh back in the lineup.
 
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