In the wake of LeBron James’ brilliant performance Thursday, the world now is asking only one thing of him.
Do it again — every game, preferably.
Unless he backs up his 45-point, 15-rebound delivery with another huge effort in a Game 7 victory Saturday against Boston and then leads the Miami Heat past Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals, James will have failed in these playoffs.
Yes, the standards are awfully high for LBJ, which is almost entirely his own doing. More is demanded of LeBron than of any athlete I can remember, but that’s fair. He’s the one who decided to go to Miami, where he figured he could win a bunch of championships routinely.
Nobody’s forgetting that introductory celebration with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh during which James spoke of multiple titles — “Not two, not three …”
So if all of us are requiring him to come through at the start, middle and end of every game in the regular season and throughout the playoffs in a bid to win just one championship, we’re merely being reasonable.
He’s not allowed to pass up the game-winning shot attempt by dishing to Udonis Haslem, as he did in March in a one-point loss to the Jazz. LeBron’s supposed to take it and make it. He asked for these expectations, and he got them.
The biggest trouble with James’ production in a 98-79 win in Game 6 was that everybody recognizes he could or should have been doing this all along. The shrinking version of himself that performed poorly in his farewell series with Cleveland against Boston two years ago and lost to Dallas with Miami in last June’s Finals certainly was nowhere to be found Thursday.
By any traditional judgment, what he’s doing in these playoffs is remarkable stuff, with Bosh having been injured and Wade playing inconsistently. James is averaging 30.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 42.1 minutes, shooting 51.2 percent from the field.
He’s looking like the LBJ who fought off illness to score 51 points for Cleveland against the Jazz in 2006, inspiring a standing ovation at EnergySolutions Arena and appreciatively saying afterward that he wanted to “showcase my talents to the crowd.”
That was probably not the first time he used the phrase “my talents” and certainly not the last, regrettably or not. The fact remains that those talents are transcendent, and James displayed them Thursday.
I’m convinced he went to Miami thinking that the presence of Wade and Bosh would take the pressure off him, but it has only intensified. You know what, though? All the criticism finally served to bring out the best in him.
As coach Erik Spoelstra said, “Nobody likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you’re even dead.”
LeBron lives, and his reshaped legacy may be born during these playoffs. He’s brought the Heat back from a 2-1 deficit against Indiana and saved them in an elimination game against Boston by scoring 30 first-half points, showing that he did not need much help from Wade, Bosh or anyone else.
All that remains is winning Game 7 in Miami and then overcoming an eager, talented Oklahoma City team in the Finals.
That series would be a lot of fun to watch, regardless of whether you’re cheering for James to fail or willing to have him succeed — if just mildly so, by his count of championships to come.
P Boston at Miami, Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN