Updated: Jun 8, 2012, 3:07 AM

1. Methodical LeBron Rises To The Occasion

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

BOSTON -- No one saw this coming.

Not LeBron James' Miami Heat teammates, not his coach, not his friends, not the Boston Celtics, not even James himself.

They all knew it was within him, everyone from his most diligent fans to those who can't help but picture him in that checkered shirt uttering "South Beach" every time they tune in. That, after all, is why everyone watches, because of what is within that talent's reach.

LeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

His draw is for the spectrum of possibility: Will he choke and be mocked or achieve and be marveled at? It's that mystery that creates the drama fans have become addicted to in May and June for years now. Even when he's unremarkable, when his production is average and his play undistinguished, there's a yearning to yank it one direction or the other.

Still, no one saw it coming quite like this. Not James' 45 points, not his 15 rebounds, not his 19 made shots on 26 attempts, not even the emotionless dark stare from a player known for being so expressive that it qualifies as a turnoff for some.

"I'm not a fortune teller," Dwyane Wade said. "I didn't see it coming."

No one of sound or rational mind would have predicted James to have one of the greatest games of his career at TD Garden, the graveyard of his seasons past, in an elimination game against his most bitter rival. Maybe the Heat hoped for it, and they certainly needed it against a Celtics team that by any measure had outperformed them for most of this Eastern Conference finals. But no way was it foreseen.

James has scored more points in playoff games, he's shown more brute strength, he's pulled off bigger long shots, he's even had a 45-point elimination-game effort in Boston before. But never had he played quite like this, executing without flair and with what almost felt like absence of joy that just added to the surreal feeling. No special pregame meal, no special text message, no new brand of deodorant.

Shot after shot just went through the net. Catch, turn, make. Face up, square, make. Different defenders, different schemes, different plays.

"I just went to my habits," James explained. "I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself or anything. I just go out and play as hard as I can and try to make plays for our team. And at the end of the day, whatever happens happens."

James has said virtually the same thing after losses this postseason, part of his regimen to tone himself down. He's been going to bed early, not even staying up to watch the Western Conference finals, if you believe him. He's been reading books, just polishing off the "Hunger Games" trilogy. He's been mostly ignoring his cell phones. He hasn't even sent out a tweet in six weeks. It's clearly part of some centering plan to eliminate the emotions that have sometimes overcome him when the pressure has arrived in the past few years.

But even if these altered lifestyle decisions are truly doing the trick, it still doesn't account for Game 6. Even for a guy averaging 31 points in the first five games of the series, it felt like it came from nowhere; it was just so all-encompassing and yet so under control.

In the other comparable performances -- his 49 points in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals in Detroit, his 45 points in Game 7 of the conference semifinals in a loss to the Celtics in 2008, his triple-double in an elimination game his Cavs won in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals -- James had to use so much energy, force and will. This game, he did it with so much economy that it was numbing.

"LeBron, he had a game," said Celtics guard Ray Allen. "He had a game."

Instantly, the question is, can it be done again? The Celtics had somewhat dared James to do it in the first place. They evaluated the situation early in the series and decided to pick on Wade, throwing double-teams at him and watching his production dip, believing the Heat did not have the firepower to make up for it. James' efforts just stayed the same -- 30 points and 10 rebounds a night, thank you -- but the Heat have had problems covering the Wade shortfall.

Even Thursday night, the Celtics valiantly stuck to their game plan as James kept making baskets -- 12 of his first 13 tries, in fact, they stayed with the double-teams on Wade. But their belief that James would tire or have a change in luck or get drunk on the hot streak didn't come home. Not even the Celtics, playing with fire, as they knew they were, could have foreseen it.

"I thought he gave them comfort in the way he played," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I hope now you guys will stop talking about LeBron and that he doesn't play in big games. He was pretty good tonight. Now that's to bed. We can go ahead and play Game 7."

Not a chance. James gave up the luxury of enjoying periodic greatness years ago. His margin for success is so small because he's made it that way with performances like this one. The better James plays, the greater the demand for him to do it more. It's the paradox he has lived in for as long as he can remember.

But all that is for consideration later. Now James' magical night in Boston didn't just kept him from having to end a season here for the third time in four years, it set up a massive game on Saturday in which the Heat just might need him to do it again.

Can he do it again? Who's to say? But, whoa, will it be fascinating to watch him try.

"I won't regret Game 7," James said. "Win, lose or draw, I'm going to go in with the mindset like I've had this whole season. And we'll see what happens."