Heat run past Celtics in fourth, go to Finals
MIAMI — One Big Three goes home. One moves on.
In a series compelling until the last ticks, the Miami Heat outlasted the Boston Celtics 101-88 Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Despite never leading by more than two points over the first three quarters, the Heat got a closing Big Three push by LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to put it away.
“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.”
The next challenge is the Oklahoma City Thunder, which the Heat will face beginning Tuesday in the NBA Finals.
By contrast, the Celtics’ Big Three might have reached its point of extinction, with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to be free agents, Paul Pierce inconsistent in this series, with only Rajon Rondo holding it together for extended stretches for Boston this postseason.
“When you lose, it always feels like it’s it,” Allen said of the potential end of the run for Boston’s previous championship cast. “There are so many emotions. This will hit me hard.”
James, consistently working his way to the foul line, led the Heat with 31 points. Bosh, who took his game outside with a career-high three three-pointers, added 19 points off the bench. And Wade, who again struggled early, added 23 points.
“That’s what we talk about,” James said. “It has to be a collective group to win the championship. Everybody was in tune today.”
For the Celtics, Pierce led the way with 19 points, with Garnett scoring 14 and Allen 15. Rondo closed with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, clearly showing he is the future for the Celtics.
“I just thought we had nothing left,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s how it felt as a coach.”
The game swayed back and forth throughout the second half, only the third Game 7 over the last 15 years to be tied entering the fourth quarter. In this case, it was 70-70.
“I guess that’s what a seven-game Eastern Conference series is supposed to be like,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It was good to see us come together in a very competitive series.
“We’ve been through a lot in two years.”
Bosh hit his second three-pointer of the night early in the fourth quarter to put the Heat ahead, with a James’ three-point play later giving the Heat an 81-79 edge, matching their largest lead to that point.
But Allen, rejuvenated in this series, came back with a three-pointer for the Celtics.
Bosh later answered with another three-pointer, putting the Heat up 86-82 with 7:16 to play, its largest lead to that point.
“He was big time — every shot, every defensive play, every rebound — we missed him,” James said of Bosh, had been sidelined for three weeks with a lower-abdominal strain before returning in Game 5, playing the final three games of the series as a reserve. “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.”
James followed with a driving layup for an 88-82 Heat lead, later hitting a 30-foot three-pointer at the expiration of the shot clock for a 91-84 Heat lead, effectively ending it.
“He was absolutely brilliant this series,” Spoelstra said. “And we all know it. He’s playing at a historic level in these playoffs.
“He is pushing himself beyond his limits. And he’s pushing the rest of the team, as well.”
An 8-0 run early in the third quarter pushed the Heat into a 59-59 tie, after they had trailed by seven at halftime.
Heat forward Shane Battier hit his fourth three-pointer of the night during the surge, with those 12 points giving him a single-game scoring high in the series.
The Heat eventually moved ahead, but a late Rondo three-pointer helped the Celtics forge the tie heading into the fourth quarter.
“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.”
With the Heat committing 10 first-half turnovers, the Celtics went into halftime up 53-46, behind 14 points from forward Brandon Bass.
Attacking the rim in transition, James shot 8 of 10 from the line in the first half, to lead the Heat with 14 points at the break.
A 14-3 run late in the second quarter pushed the Celtics to a 49-38 lead, after the teams had stood tied 30-30 earlier in the period. The run came after Garnett went to the bench with his third foul.
The Heat fell behind amid a 2-of-7 start from the field from Wade.
Rolling early, the Celtics ran into adversity with 7:08 to play in the second period, when Garnett was called for that third foul.
Moments earlier, the Heat got a boost on a three-pointer from Bosh. He never before had more than two in a postseason.
With Allen scoring eight first-quarter points, the Celtics took a 27-23 lead into the second period, boosted by six first-quarter Heat turnovers and five assists in the period by point guard Rondo.
The Celtics largely kept the Heat on the perimeter early, with the Heat attempting eight three-point shots and eight two-pointers in the first quarter.
Shooting 6 of 6 from the foul line, James led the Heat with eight first-quarter points.
The Celtics opened by missing their first three shots, but then made nine of their next 11 to move to a 23-14 lead, quieting the crowd early.
There were plenty of interesting defensive matchups early, with Wade again opening on Rondo, and this time Bass opening defensively against James, who did not score his first basket until 4:45 remained in the first quarter.
Wade and Rondo got into it late in the second quarter, with each assessed a technical foul.
Bosh, who again played off the bench, entered with 5:52 to play in the first period.
NOTES: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who is of Filipino descent and had considered himself a huge Manny Pacquiao fan, was not all that pleased that Pacquiao had announced his Saturday title fight would not begin until his beloved Celtics were done playing. “Manny, you’re making it very tough on me,” Spoelstra said pregame. “I’m going to have to get confirmation from Freddie Roach or something. I don’t know. If I don’t hear otherwise, I have to get an absolute confirmation. Otherwise, I might have to root for Bradley tonight.” … Spoelstra opted to again play Bosh off the bench, in what was his third game back after missing three weeks with a lower-abdominal strain. … Rivers said during pregame interviews he felt like he was playing with house money Saturday. “Let’s be honest,” he said, “If you had told me before the playoffs started you could have a Game 7 to decide to go to the Finals, we’d have taken it and wouldn’t have cared where you played it.”