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LeBron James shows 'ugly' can be beautiful

Posted: June 11, 2012 - 12:01am

MIAMI - The “ugly look.”

That’s what Mario Chalmers calls it.

Permanent snarl.

Nostrils flaring.

Eyes rolled back into the head like a young Anakin Skywalker.

That was the look LeBron James brought into his epic Game 6 performance in these Eastern Conference finals.

Carried it around, in fact, for two days after the Heat stunningly fell behind in this series Tuesday against the proud Celtics.

It was there again Saturday night in this all-or-nothing Game 7, a 101-88 Heat win at rollicking AmericanAirlines Arena.

It was there for sure at the end as LeBron lit up Brandon Bass like a neon sign, dropping 11 points in an overwhelming fourth quarter.

First, there was a driving layup for a three-point play to put the Heat up by two.

A minute later, LeBron blew past Bass for a thunderous one-hand dunk to wipe out another one-point deficit.

Another driving layup to put the Heat up six and soon after a long 3-pointer to put them up seven.

“That was a backbreaker,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Felt like it was from halfcourt.”

Snarl.

Flare.

Roll.

LeBron didn’t go for 45 points and 15 rebounds in this latest legacy-shaping opportunity.

Heat fans had to settle for 31 and 12 from their superstar forward, but that was more than enough to drive a pulsating victory and earn him the series MVP trophy.

He got to the foul line 17 times (making 12). He occupied a second defender much of the night. He set a hard-nosed tone and picked up his typical share of floor burns.

Along with solid help from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, that was just what the Heat needed to avoid disaster and return to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.

Next stop: Oklahoma City, where the Finals open Tuesday against Thunder star Kevin Durant, LeBron’s offseason workout partner.

His teammates no doubt hope LeBron packs the “ugly look” for that challenge as well, and this has nothing to do with those silly fake glasses he and Wade wear to press conferences.

“I’ve never had that look,” LeBron had protested before Game 7. “That’s never happened in my life.”

What would he prefer then?

“ ‘Focused look,’ “ he said. “I’ll take that.”

By any description, make it two straight series victories over the Celtics for LeBron, who had been stymied by this storied franchise in Cleveland.

This time, it took seven long, exhilarating games with the conference championship at stake.

Only an incredible series from the game’s most gifted player kept Rivers’ core group from making it three trips to the Finals in five years.

“I understand what they’re capable of,” LeBron had said. “I understand what their makeup is.”

Maybe now the basketball world will begin to fully grasp what LeBron offers.

Perhaps, instead of nitpicking the guy to death, people can just sit back and appreciate him for his makeup as well as his talent.

“I thought he played a very smart, aggressive game,” Rivers said. “Kind of let the game come to him and then down the stretch he took the game over. That’s what great players do.”

When it was over, Rivers and LeBron shared an extended hug and words of mutual respect.

“I told him to go do it,” Rivers said. “Very proud of him. I think he gets too much heat.”

Celtics guard Keyon Dooling, formerly of the Heat and Dilliard High School, was gracious in defeat as well.

“I’ve never bought into this whole persona that LeBron isn’t the guy,” Dooling said. “I think everybody should relax a little bit. He’s great for our game. He is our game. We need to uplift him instead of trying to tear him down.

“He’s the most unselfish superstar I’ve ever seen. He rebounds the ball. He assists the ball. He’s empowered his friends from his community. He does a lot of charity work in the community. He’s a model citizen. He should not have a stain on his reputation, and I hope that it stops.”

Tough-minded? Unselfish? Resilient?

LeBron has been all of those things through these first three rounds.

He kept his average at 30.8 points, second-best of his postseason career.

He has produced double figures in rebounds eight times.

No triple-doubles so far, but he’s had at least seven assists seven times.

“He was absolutely brilliant this series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We all know it. He’s playing at a historic level during the playoffs, driving us with his will. We do not take his talent or his will or his competitiveness for granted, and we needed every single bit of it.”

Oh, and after playing all but the final 28.3 seconds of this one, he’s averaging 42.4 minutes.

“He’s pushing himself beyond his limits,” Spoelstra said, “and he’s pushing the rest of the team as well.”

Saturday night started a little slowly for all concerned as the Heat fell behind by 11 points. LeBron was just 3 of 5 from the floor in the first half, 5 of 12 through three quarters.

He had three turnovers and no assists entering the final period. But just when his team needed him most, LeBron came through.

Snarling all the way.

Know what?

This “ugly look” suits him.

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