- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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LeBron James reacts as he encounters resistance going to the hoop in Game 7.MIAMI -- Rapid reaction after the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 101-88 on Saturday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at AmericanAirlines Arena. Miami wins the series 4-3 and advances to the NBA Finals to meet the Oklahoma City Thunder.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
LeBron James scored 31 points and Dwyane Wade added 23, the pair combining for 20 fourth-quarter points as the Heat ran away from the Celtics over the final eight minutes. James simply wouldn't be denied, taking over at a crucial stretch after the teams rode a seesaw for much of the second half. Chris Bosh added 19 points off the bench, while Shane Battier was a pest with 12 points off four 3-pointers. Rajon Rondo produced another playoff triple-double with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough for Boston. Paul Pierce added 19 points (on 7-of-18 shooting) while Brandon Bass chipped in 16 points (only two after the intermission).
The Heat were down a point with a little more than eight minutes to go when James went into locomotive mode. He shook Bass with a little crossover dribble and went to the hoop with a head of steam, Ray Allen offering little resistance off help defense. Pierce couldn't step up due to foul trouble -- and it might not have mattered if he did -- as James elevated and threw down a vicious slam. At the other end of the floor, Wade produced a hustle play to steal the ball from Pierce, and Miami got a timeout as he went to the floor for the ball. Coming out of the stoppage, James dished to Bosh for a corner 3-pointer and an 86-82 lead. After another James bucket, Bass temporarily stopped the bleeding, only for James -- in full takeover mode -- to drill a ridiculous 28-foot 3-pointer off a (very) high pick-and-roll with Bosh, and the lead was 91-84 with 5:44 to play. Boston never hit back, and the lead was at double digits after a Wade jumper with less than three minutes to go.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME
James' game-changing drive deserves this spot, but since we covered that, we'll give it to Bass. With Kevin Garnett on the bench due to foul trouble midway through the second quarter, Bass took over the game. Not only did he score 10 of Boston's next 12 points (in little more than a three-minute span), but he capped it by stealing a pass intended for James and went the other way before posterizing Wade (video HERE) with a two-handed slam that had Boston on top 49-38 with 3:12 to play in the second quarter. For the first half, Bass chipped in 14 points (more than he had in any previous game this series) on 5-of-7 shooting with three rebounds and three steals over 19:53. Oh, and he opened the game defending James, who was just 3-of-5 shooting in the first half (but 10 free throw attempts helped him have 14 points at the break as well).
FIRST HALF: WHO NEEDS KG?
The Celtics started the game strong and owned a nine-point lead (23-14) after riding Garnett a little longer than usual in the first frame. But as soon as he went to the bench, the Heat started attacking the basket. That lead was down to 27-23 after one frame. The key stretch, however, came when Garnett went to the bench in a tied game with 6:50 to play in the half. That's when Bass went to work, fueling a 14-3 burst with 10 points. Miami got its deficit down as low as five, but a late layup by Allen put the Celtics on top 53-46 at the intermission.
HEAT TIE THE GAME IN SEESAW THIRD QUARTER
Shane Battier's 3-pointers (four over the first three quarters) helped Miami bite into its deficit, and a driving layup from James tied the game at 61 with 6:22 to play in the third frame. That set the seesaw in motion in a quarter that featured six ties and six lead changes. Fittingly, the game was knotted at 73 heading to the final frame.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics deserved a better ending to an amazing season, but talent won out in the end. The Heat, with a healthy Bosh and an insatiable James, were simply the better team, winning Games 6 and 7 to prevail. Boston overcame a ton of adversity just to have a chance at getting back to the NBA Finals. It comes up one win shy, and a summer of uncertainty looms. Eventually, Boston will reflect on an amazing 2011-12 campaign.
4dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
5dESPN Stats and Information Group
7dESPN Stats & Information