Miami rallies, reaches Finals
MIAMI — LeBron James finally got a Game 7 victory, on his third try.
Next up, the NBA Finals — and his third try at that elusive first championship. A year after watching someone else celebrate on their home floor, the Miami Heat players were the ones dancing at midcourt.
James had 31 points and 12 rebounds, Chris Bosh hit a career-best three 3-pointers — the last sparking the run that put it away — and the Heat won its second straight Eastern Conference title by beating the Boston Celtics, 101-88, in Game 7 on Saturday night.
Miami opens the title series in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. The Heat got there by outscoring Boston 28-15 in the fourth quarter, with the “Big Three” of James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade scoring every Miami point.
“We decided to come together and play together for a reason,” said Wade, who scored 23 points.
Bosh finished with 19 and Shane Battier added 12 for the Heat, which won a Game 7 for the first time since 2004 — Wade’s rookie season. Now it’s back to the Finals, where Miami fell in six games to Dallas a year ago.
Rajon Rondo finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for Boston, which got 19 points from Paul Pierce in what might have been the last game of the “Big Four” era for the Celtics.
Boston took out its starters with 28.3 seconds remaining. By then, workers already had a rope around the court, preparing for the East trophy presentation.
“Give them credit,” Rondo said. “They spread the points out as a team tonight. Give them credit. They played great tonight as a team and we just came up short.”
When Heat president Pat Riley was shown on the giant overhead video screen in the moments just after the final buzzer, the crowd screamed. Riley finally acknowledged them with some claps, before the 2012 Eastern Conference champions logo was shown as players below the scoreboard high-fived and hugged, all wearing the new T-shirts and caps that marked the achievement.
The screams kept coming, first when retired center Alonzo Mourning took the microphone — “We still got a lot of work to do,” Mourning said — and then again when he handed the trophy to Heat owner Micky Arison.
“A roller-coaster ride,” Arison said.
A roller-coaster game, too. In a roller-coaster season.
All worth it — for now, anyway. The next step awaits, another shot at the Finals. In a championship-or-bust season, the Heat boards a plane for Oklahoma City today.
“We have been through a lot,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
James and Celtics coach Doc Rivers — who teared up often postgame — shared a long embrace when it was over. Before coming to Miami for Game 7, Rivers had packed for Oklahoma City, a trip he won’t make, set to now spend his time seeing if James can win that first title.
“I told him to go do it,” Rivers said.
The fun really started in the third quarter with six lead changes and five ties in the final 7 minutes.
Six games decided nothing, and nothing was decided in Game 7 until the very last moments, neither team willing to yield. Battier’s 3-pointer with 8:06 to play in the third quarter cut Boston’s lead to 59-57.
And back and forth they went. For the next 13 minutes, a span of 46 dizzying, unbelievable possessions, neither team led by more than two points.
That changed when Bosh his third 3-pointer with 7:17 remaining. James made a runner on the next Miami trip, and suddenly the Heat had its biggest lead of the night, 88-82 with 6:54 remaining.
The team was on its way.
“He was big time — every shot, every defensive play, every rebound — we missed him,” James said of Bosh. “We’re just happy to have him back at the right time. If it wasn’t for him and the rest of the guys that stepped up, we don’t win this game.”
Said Spoelstra: “Our most important player.”
James made a 3-pointer — it went into the books as a 30-footer, as he leaped from atop one of the Eastern Conference finals stickers on the floor — as the shot clock was expiring with just under 6 minutes to go, making it 91-84.
“Backbreaker,” Rivers said.
After Miami increased the lead to 95-86 with 3:23 to play, Boston called time and the building was simply rocking. James did plenty of talking on the Heat bench in that stoppage, clearly saying the word “Finish” at one point.
The players listened. A three-point play by Wade with 2:53 to go all but sealed it, the Heat was up 12, and Oklahoma City beckoned.
“We had nothing left,” Rivers said.