Versatile James shows off skills

His stellar defense makes a difference

By Cristina Ledra
Globe Correspondent / May 12, 2011

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MIAMI – When it looked like this Eastern Conference semifinal series might be heading back to Boston, LeBron James and his talents made sure it ended in South Beach.

James took over the final minutes of the Heat’s 97-87 Game 5 win to scratch the Celtics from the postseason.

“LeBron was simply sensational,’’ said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

While the Heat went on a 16-0 run to end the game, James by himself went on a 10-0 run, including a steal and an effortless dunk in the waning seconds to send the crowd into a frenzy.

“It was an absolute self-willed and team-willed concept,’’ Spoelstra said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.’’

James had a relatively quiet first half with 10 points to Dwyane Wade’s 23 and said he knew he had to crank it up in the second half.

“At halftime I told him I had his back,’’ James said. “D-Wade had it going in the first half, you could tell how much he wanted the game and I don’t think I was playing particularly well in the first half. I didn’t shoot the ball well, I missed my first five or so shots and I just told him, ‘I got your back. I’ll make sure I show up for this game for you.’ ’’

James finished with 33 points to Wade’s 34.

The duo at their best, along with Chris Bosh, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, proved too much for the Celtics. The Heat also had key baskets from their bench – James Jones’s 3-pointer that helped spark the run with 3:43 left, in particular.

“Those three guys are tough, and those two guys are monsters,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “The drives you can try to take away, but when they are making jump shots like they were, they are tough to beat.’’

Spoelstra said James deserved just as much attention for his defense.

“I wanted to do it tonight, if [Shaquille O’Neal] was going to play I wanted to put LeBron on him one possession because no one else does this in the league,’’ Spoelstra said. “He’s guarded every player on that team at least two or three possessions by design and I don’t think that’s ever been done. And I think that really shows you the I.Q. and the talent level, his willingness to do that.’’

Spoelstra played James at different positions throughout the regular season to make him more defensively versatile and even though James didn’t necessarily understand the moves at the time, the work paid off in this series.

“We needed all of his talent,’’ Spoelstra said. “As a two-way player, to be an MVP as he’s been offensively, but also to be the best defensive player on the court and to impact every single position . . . but down the stretch that’s what greatness is all about.

“Sometimes it transcends X’s and O’s, from a schematic standpoint, and sometimes you need your best players to do something special. A 10-0 run and a steal to cap it, was terrific here at home.’’

Immediately following the game, James knelt down in an overflow of emotion he said was indescribable. He could exhale for a moment before moving on to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I knew how important ‘team’ is to this sport,’’ James said. “Everything, all the backlash from it, the talks me and D-Wade had, I’d be here two hours to describe everything that went through my head. I was just emotional at that point and I was just happy we got through it as a team.’’

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