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LeBron James didn’t prove anything with Game 6 performance

Miami Heforward LeBrJames gestures as he walks upcourt during third quarter Game 6 NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals against BostCeltics

Miami Heat forward LeBron James gestures as he walks upcourt during the third quarter in Game 6 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, Thursday, June 7, 2012, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

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Updated: June 8, 2012 4:01PM

LeBron James didn’t win anything Thursday night. Except the right to play another game.

He didn’t shut anybody up. He didn’t exorcise any demons. He didn’t change anybody’s mind. After a magnificent 45-point, 15-rebound performance against the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals that was as much about fortitude as it was about points or rebounds, Lebron still is everything anybody thinks he is: the best player in the NBA, with transcendent skills but a history of being unable to lead a team to a championship.

Game 6 was the easy part. Down 3-2 on the road, James was in desperation mode, with nothing to lose — which is when he’s often at his best. He’s the king of the first-quarter buzzer beater. He’s more often a crunch-time performer early in a playoff series than late. Or when his team is down 3-1.

His closing performance against the Bulls last year in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals was classic LeBron — down 12 points with 3:14 left, he followed Dwyane Wade’s lead and sparked the Heat’s 18-3 run that won the game and clinched the series. James deserves his due credit for a memorable clutch performance. But it wasn’t Game 7. It wasn’t the NBA Finals. While it’s a shame that people are rooting for him to fail, it’s not unfair to expect more out of the best player in the game. That doesn’t make you a ‘‘hater.’’ It makes you an NBA fan.

As impressive as James’ performance was in Game 6 against the Celtics, it didn’t erase last year’s NBA Finals from the history books. LeBron’s diminishing production and fourth-quarter silence was undeniably a stunning meltdown for a player of his stature. He scored 18 fourth-quarter points in six games — half of them were scored when his team either trailed or led by 10 points or more. The only two fourth-quarter points he scored in a two-possession game was a basket in Game 3 when the Heat led 67-64 — with 11:39 left in the game.

Nobody wants to hear about James’ monster numbers in the playoffs — the argument isn’t whether or not he’s a great player. And while he’s had his moments in the postseason — not even Jordan hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer like James did to beat the Magic in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2009 — those moments aren’t nearly enough to trump James’ playoff failures when it comes to defining him as a postseason performer.

If James can come through with another stellar performance in Game 7 on Saturday and lead the Heat to the Eastern Conference title, more power to him. His demeanor throughout Game 6 indicated he might have broken through whatever barrier prevented him from making the difference in last year’s Finals. I’d like to think I represent a large segment of basketball fans willing to give LeBron his due as a playoff performer on a level with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. But he’s got to earn it. Game 6 against the Celtics was a small step for LeBron James. He’s still a few giant leaps from redemption.

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