LeBron James scored 45 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to power the Miami Heat over Boston 98-79 on Thursday and force a one-game showdown to decide which team advances to the NBA Finals.
With the Heat facing elimination, NBA Most Valuable Player James unleashed one of the greatest performances of his career on the Celtics, who were routed on their home court when they had a chance to take the series with a victory.
Instead, the Heat evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final at 3-3 to force a deciding game on Saturday in Miami. The winner will face the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals starting Tuesday.
"We had to win this game," James said. "It's a good win for us. It's a one-game series now. The game is in our building. We're looking forward to the challenge."
James kept alive his hopes of capturing his first NBA title, his main goal when he departed the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 to join fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
The Heat reached last year's NBA Finals in the first season for James in Miami, but lost to the Dallas Mavericks.
James finished four points shy of his NBA playoff career high of 49 points scored against Orlando in 2009.
James scored 30 first-half points on 12-of-14 shooting to lead Miami to a 55-42 half-time lead. The Celtics made runs at the Heat in the third and fourth quarters but could not produce nearly enough points to threaten the visitors.
"I just wanted to try to lead my team the best way I could," James said. "I was glad I could be there for them and we could force a game seven. If I know I played hard, I wouldn't regret anything no matter how it turns out."