BOSTON – Ball in his hands, a run at the longest winning streak in NBA history in the balance, and LeBron James had come to complete a downright destruction of these Boston Celtics. Flick of the wrist in the final seconds, and the flailing of hearts in the Garden. Yes, LeBron James charts a course for complete and utter destruction. Resistance is futile.
Once, James could be uneven in these telltale moments of games. Now, the best player on the planet is impenetrable. James made the final shot in the Heat's 105-103 victory over the Celtics on Monday night – punctuating a performance of 37 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds – and refusing ultimately to let this streak end. On and on it goes now, 23 victories down and 10 more to reach the record 33 of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Out of the traditional boredom of the NBA's month of March, there comes the drama of this chase for one of the most spectacular streaks in sports history. For so long, everyone wondered: How do you beat James and Miami four times in a playoff series?
Now, everyone's reduced to asking: How do you beat them once?
"What they're doing is remarkable, because they're getting the best every night, from everybody," Celtics coach Doc Rivers told Yahoo! Sports. "They trust now. You don't want to get into a one-point game with them, because they have the ultimate trust in each other."
Mostly, Miami has LeBron James now. Whatever the Heat were down inside a vociferous T.D. Bank Garden – including 13 points in the fourth quarter – James is forever lurking, forever a ferocity to close these games with a flurry of passes and shots and stops. He beat Boston with a baseline drive to catch them at 103-103 with 45 seconds left and a 20-footer to beat them with 10.5 seconds left.
Two years ago, the Celtics traded for Jeff Green with the belief they needed his length and athleticism to compete with Miami. With Rajon Rondo out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Kevin Garnett sitting with the flu, Green played the best game of his career – 43 points, seven rebounds and four blocks – and it wouldn't matter.
Five years ago on this night, the Celtics ended the Houston Rockets' 22-game winning streak. Of course, five years ago, the end of that streak was something people expected to come every night. Houston was so pedestrian, winning 22 straight without stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady ever playing once together.
And, now, five years later, Miami's Shane Battier sits in this locker room and swears he never needed the passing of time, nor the context of playing for a champion, to understand how downright dumbfounding of an accomplishment 22 victories for him and the Chuck Hayes and Luis Scolas of the sport had been in '08.
"We knew back then that it was one of the most improbable runs in basketball history – maybe even in sports history," Battier told Yahoo! Sports. "We were journeymen, a bunch of role players. When we were healthy – with Yao and Tracy – that team was pretty good. But we could never stay healthy.
"That was our championship."
Only, this is something else with the Heat. This streak is a measuring tool on the way to consecutive titles, a way to incorporate this team with the greatest in the history of the sport. That's why this matters, and that's why James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh seem reluctant to let it perish. They were constructed to make history and this is one more way to relentlessly pursue it.
The next four games come against the worst four teams in the Eastern Conference and the possibility of running down those '71-72 Lakers could be genuine when they're done pounding Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando.
There are still the Chicago Bulls (perhaps without Derrick Rose) and the San Antonio Spurs (perhaps without Tony Parker) awaiting this streak in March. Every night brings someone's best for these Heat, brings a voracious sellout desperate to see James go down. This is part of the marvel of what Miami's doing now, the remarkable nature of this pursuit.
Boston had its chances, made mistakes in the final minutes and James made them pay with a loss. "LeBron bailed us out with some great plays at the end," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
In the end, that's how it's always now: Ball in his hands, and a belief washing over the arena that someway, somehow, LeBron James will make the proper play for the victory. Night after night, he keeps coming this way, and it's turned downright disheartening for everyone else.
"He's the best," Battier said.
Twenty-three consecutive victories now, and LeBron James keeps coming for those '71-72 Lakers, keeps coming for a part of history that maybe no one else can ever touch. The Celtics are out of the way now, 23 victories down and rest assured that this streak has real traction to go the distance.
One more genius performance on a genius run for LeBron James, one more night on one of the most remarkable runs the sport has ever seen.
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