The Heat were headed back to the NBA finals after LeBron James had 31 points and 12 rebounds, and Dwyane Wade scored 23 points to help Miami rally from as many as 11 points down to beat the Boston Celtics 101-88 on Saturday.
Chris Bosh finished with 19 points off the Miami bench, and made a career-best three 3-pointers, the last sparking a huge Heat run to end Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Dwyane Wade scored and Shane Battier added 12 for the Heat, who won a Game 7 for the first time since 2004, Wade’s rookie season.
Rajon Rondo finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for Boston, which got 19 points from Paul Pierce in what might be the last game of the “Big Four” era for the Celtics.
Boston took out its starters with 28.3 seconds left. By then, workers already had a rope around the perimeter of the court, preparing for the East trophy presentation.
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 accomplishment.
The screams kept coming, first when 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 board a plane for Oklahoma City on Sunday.
“We have been through a lot,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Down by seven at the half and eight early in the third quarter, Miami started clawing back. An 8-0 run tied it at 59-all, capped by Wade hitting a jumper, and then the fun really started.
There were six lead changes and five more ties in the final 7 minutes of the third. Bosh scored with 29 seconds left for the last of those ties, and it was 73-all going into the fourth.
Six games decided nothing, and nothing was decided in Game 7 until the very last moments, neither team yielding much of anything. Battier’s 3-pointer with 8:06 left in the third cut Boston’s lead at the time 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 finally changed when Bosh hit his third 3-pointer with 7:17 left. James made a runner on the next Miami trip, and suddenly the Heat had their biggest lead of the night to that point, 88-82 with 6:54 remaining.
They were on their 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.”
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 left, making it 91-84. Even mistakes were going Miami’s way, as James lost a behind-the-back dribble, only to have the ball skip right into Battier’s hands.
Bosh scored from inside the lane to end that possession. Wade scored on the next one, the lead was 95-86 with 3:23 left, 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.
They listened. A three-point play by Wade with 2:53 left all but sealed it, the Heat were up 12, and Oklahoma City beckoned.
Brandon Bass scored 16, Ray Allen finished with 15 and Kevin Garnett scored 14 for the Celtics, who know next season could bring big changes.
A team that was under .500 at the All-Star break almost made the NBA finals.