Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade gets the crowd going as the team pulls away… (Jim Rassol / MCT )
MIAMI — This started way before Monday's tipoff.
LeBron James wanted to make sure his Miami Heat teammates were locked in long before they took the court for pregame warmups. So he spoke to each one after the team's morning shoot-around. No details of the discussion were disclosed but one thing was certain.
After being cast as a one-man team most of the series, the Heat put together a collective effort in defeating the Indiana Pacers, 99-76, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Heat won the series, 4-3, to advance to the NBA Finals for the third straight year.
Miami will play the San Antonio Spurs in a best-of-seven series that begins Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
"Ultimately, competition brought out the best game in the series," Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We'll enjoy this for a short period of time."
It means James will face the team he lost to in his first Finals appearance, in 2007 with Cleveland. He helped make the marquee matchup possible with another strong performance, leading all scorers with 32 points and getting eight rebounds and four assists.
Yet this was more about getting teammates involved, particularly struggling guard Dwyane Wade, who responded with 21 points and nine rebounds.
"The first play of the game, I called a play for [Wade]," James said. "Even though he didn't shoot the ball, he got a good touch in the paint. I called a couple sets for him early in the game just to get a feel for him."
And with everyone contributing, there was little doubt the Heat was headed to victory. Miami trailed by two after the first quarter despite the Pacers' committing nine turnovers. From there, the Heat's experience took over, especially facing an Indiana team full of players who had never participated in a deciding game.
"We've got so many guys that have played in so many big games on our team that you know they'll show up no matter what," James said.
Then he added, "Especially when it matters most."
The Heat responded under the pressure of facing a bumpy off-season if it failed to reach the championship round. Questions surely would have been raised about the Big Three remaining intact, and the job security of Spoelstra.
Those thoughts can rest, at least until the outcome of the Finals, thanks to the resurrections of Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen. The three future Hall of Famers were integral in the Heat's building a 15-point halftime lead.
After Indiana pulled to within 28-27 on two free throws by D.J. Augustin, the Heat went on an 11-2 run to build a 10-point lead. Bosh, Allen and James scored all the points during the spurt.
Bosh finished with nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Allen scored 10 points, including three three-pointers, to complete the redemption game for all three players who had been struggling in the series.
"Those guys have been battle-tested," said Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. "They've been through it before."