MIAMI – Their season, their legacy, their reign atop the NBA was all at stake, and the Miami Heat responded in a manner befitting defending champions – with a blowout.
LeBron James scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds, ailing Dwyane Wade matched his postseason high with 21 points, and the Heat ran away from the Indiana Pacers 99-76 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last night at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
In the NBA Finals for the third straight year, the Heat will play the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 on Thursday in Miami.
“They’re just an amazing group of guys,” Heat managing general partner Micky Arison said after handing the East trophy to Chris Andersen. “They’ve given us an incredible season so far, but it’s a long way from over.”
It could have ended Monday, of course. The Heat had alternated wins and losses with the Pacers in the first six games of the series, and were coming off their worst offensive outing of the season in Game 6.
They responded with a rout, despite shooting just less than 40 per cent, well below their norm.
Miami led by as many as 28 points, a shocking amount for a series that had an aggregate score of Heat 569, Pacers 564 entering Monday night. The Heat actually trailed by six in the early going and were still down 21-19 after the first quarter, and it was starting to look like it would be one of those down-to-the-wire nights.
Not even close.
James exited with 5:08 left, shaking retired soccer star David Beckham’s hand as he made his way to the Heat’s bench for a relatively subdued celebration. Not long afterward, security personnel started what has become a familiar task in Miami – surrounding the court and stretching out a yellow rope, preparing to hold people at bay for the looming on-court trophy presentation.
More than a few people didn’t stick around to see the East title formally presented. After all, it’s an all-or-nothing season for the Heat – and this trophy isn’t the one that will satisfy them.
Ray Allen added 10 points for Miami, which earned its 78th victory of the season, matching the 11th-best single-season total in NBA history.
“It’s just a privilege to be with this great team, great teammates, and we have another opportunity to go back to where we are,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “You never really want to get it out of the way too much. Game 7s don’t happen too often. We enjoyed it and now we have to move on.”
Roy Hibbert scored 18 points for the Pacers, who got 14 from David West, 13 from George Hill and 10 from Lance Stephenson. All-Star Paul George was held to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting and fouled out early in the fourth quarter.