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Heat headed back to NBA Finals with 101-88 victory over Celtics

LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade fuel second-half surge as Boston finally runs out of gas in Eastern Conference finals. Next up: NBA Finals are Game 1 Tuesday in Oklahoma City.

June 09, 2012|By Ira Winderman
  • Miami Heat forward LeBron James puts up a shot in traffic during the second half of Game 7 against the Boston Celtics.
Miami Heat forward LeBron James puts up a shot in traffic during the second… (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images )

MIAMI — For the Miami Heat, this was more exhale than exultation.

The team's hope is that the exulting will follow.

For now, there is the mere satisfaction of traversing the long road back to the NBA Finals. With the hope for a better result.

A year after falling two games short of the franchise's second NBA championship, the Heat will get its shot at redemption, with Saturday night's 101-88 Game 7 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena finally finishing off the Boston Celtics.

"We wanted to give our fans a big win," LeBron James said after leading the Heat with 31 points. "We look forward to the next challenge."

While a modest Eastern Conference championship celebration followed, this has never been about something so mundane, something James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh achieved last season, their first together as teammates.

This, instead, has, from the moment the NBA lockout ended in December, been about pushing past the sting of last year's Finals failure against the Dallas Mavericks, when Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Mark Cuban exulted on the Heat's home court and then in the clubs of South Beach.

Saturday was playoff theater at its finest, with Bosh stepping back to hit three-pointers, James attacking the basket for three-point plays, Wade again coming on strong in a second half and Miami finally surviving.

"That's what we talk about," James said. "It has to be a collective group to win the championship. Everybody was in tune today."

In a game that featured 20 lead changes and 10 ties, with the Heat never up by more than two points through the first three quarters, James, Bosh and Wade finally put it away late.

Wade scored 23 point for Miami and Bosh, who made a career-high three three-pointers, contributed 19.

"He was the X-factor," Boston Coach Doc Rivers said of Bosh. "He gave them exactly what they needed."

For the Celtics, who now face a major post-Big Three overhaul, with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to be free agents, Rajon Rondo again was magnificent, with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Paul Pierce, who again fought foul trouble, scored 19 points, Garnett had 14 and Allen 15.

"I just thought we had nothing left," Rivers said. "That's how it felt as a coach."

The second Finals of the Heat's Big Three era comes after challenges far greater than the path taken in 2011. This time there was the revival of the rivalry with the New York Knicks in the first round, the 2-2 uncertainty against the bigger Indiana Pacers in the second round, and then this latest test against a Big Three that eventually reached its expiration date.

Instead of the Heat reconsidering its own Big Three as well as the fate of Coach Erik Spoelstra, those questions, at least for now, are put aside in favor of the challenge of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals, which open Tuesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

"They're really talented," Rivers said of the Heat. "Erik does a terrific job. I wish he got more credit with what he does with that group."

Rivers' group led by Rondo, Garnett, Allen and Pierce was vanquished by the Heat for a second consecutive season. Now comes the challenge of the Thunder's Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka.

Home-court advantage, which will belong to the Thunder in the Finals, was a key factor for the Heat on Saturday, as it often is in winner-take-all games in the NBA playoffs — home teams are now 89-22 in Game 7s.

The Heat is 8-2 at home this postseason.

The fourth quarter was riveting, with Bosh and Allen matching three-pointers early, James attacking and Garnett posting up.

It came down to a possession-by-possession slugfest.

When Bosh hit his third three-pointer of the night with 7:17 to play, it put the Heat up 86-82, Miami's largest lead to that point.

James followed with a driving layup for an 88-82 Heat lead.

A Brandon Bass jumper got Boston to within 88-84.

But that's when James, with the shot clock expiring, hit a 30-foot three-pointer for a 91-84 Heat lead, effectively ending it.

iwinderman@tribune.com

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