BOSTON LeBron James, after turning in a performance that was epic enough to not only alter the course of a series but perhaps redefine his career, exited the court at Boston Garden, raised his middle finger to the world and unleashed an expletive-laced rant to everyone (that would be you, world) who had ever doubted him.
Ah, if only.
As it turned out, after his 45-point, 15-rebound, five-assist masterpiece allowed him to survive an elimination game on the road for the first time in his career in his own personal house of horrors, at that James could be found sitting serenely at his locker, his head wrapped in a black do-rag, his knees bandaged in ice and the best-selling book "Mockingjay" open in his lap.
If this was the way the NBA's most popular and polarizing figure chose to celebrate such a seminal moment, it was no less striking than the way James went about his work Thursday night, with the cool detachment of a man lost in his thoughts.
In a game that carried such grave ramifications if Miami had lost there would be calls for Erik Spoelstra's firing, demanding that the Big Three be broken up and the cementing of James' can't-win-the-big-one legacy it was easy to think that James didn't care. There were no fist pumps. There were no broad smiles. There was no wincing.
And there were no pushups.
All James did was make shot after shot, turning and shooting over Mickael Pietrus, pump-faking Paul Pierce into foul trouble, draining a 3-pointer over Kevin Garnett and soaring in to dunk Chris Bosh's missed shot.
He had 30 points at halftime, made 10 consecutive shots and finished 19 of 26.
The ravenous Garden crowd, which so expected the Celtics to close out the series, grew anxious early on, then was stunned into silence. By the time Miami's lead ballooned to 25 points midway through the fourth quarter, the arena began clearing out except for a few thousand die-hards.
"I just went to my habits," James said at the interview podium. "I went to what I built over the course of the season, over the course of the years and just went out and played. I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself or anything tonight. I just go out and play as hard as I can and try to make plays for our team. At the end of the day whatever happens, happens. I can be satisfied with that."
It was essentially the same c'est la vie responses James offered up to questions in the last 48 hours about his resolve, his team's circumstance and the consequences that would follow the Heat's failure to win a title.
All of these came after Miami's Game 5 loss at home, when the Heat played with little determination and their fate was sealed when Pierce sank a clutch 3-pointer over James.
In the aftermath, with the Heat on the brink of elimination, all eyes turned to James, searching for a hint of what he must be feeling as a world of self-induced expectations and a universe of scorn was being laid at his feet.
Was he angry? Was he overwhelmed? Was he determined?
There was only one conclusion to draw about James and by extension, the Heat for those who examined James' countenance, his speech and his tone as a means of checking his pulse.
That he had none.
And why wouldn't it be read this way? James had checked out two years ago when Cleveland lost to Boston, shedding his jersey on the way off the floor, which proved to be a metaphor for the way he shed the Cavaliers two months later in free agency. Last year, he shrunk when the Heat lost to Dallas in the Finals.
This time, James had simply retreated into his own world.
To those who know James best, this was not necessarily a problem. James was quiet all day, according to Mario Chalmers. Shane Battier noted that James was joking when their bus driver, stuck in traffic, took the team on a scenic tour to the Garden. Bosh saw not disengagement, but great focus.
The only emotion James showed all night was when he slammed the ball to the court after Rajon Rondo snatched away a rebound that James had carelessly grabbed with one hand. He was whistled for a technical foul.
"He's got a unique situation where he's always going to be critiqued," Miami guard James Jones said. "If he's angry, there's something wrong. If he's happy, there's something wrong. If he doesn't have a reaction, there's something wrong. So he's just himself, which is if he feels like laughing, he laughs. If he doesn't feel like it, he doesn't. There's no method."
Determination and resolve have plenty of faces, apparently not all of them a Michael Jordan scowl, a Kobe Bryant sneer or a Kevin Garnett scream. Dirk Nowitzki and more recently Kevin Durant are showing that a killer instinct doesn't necessarily need to be cloaked in attitude, and delivering a dose of nasty doesn't necessarily guarantee a championship.
And neither did James' performance Thursday. All it earned him and the Heat is another chance to keep their season alive and write a new ending, the latest chapter not being the last one after all, only the most unexpected.
"I'm not a fortune teller," Dwyane Wade said. "I didn't see it coming."