The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics went into the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals all tied up at 73. Whichever team lost faced a plausible offseason overhaul. And LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all proved how good they can play on both ends of the floor when they closed out a prideful championship team.
The Celtics held a one-point lead, 82-81, with just under nine minutes left to go in the game. But the Heat utterly dominated the rest of the game to win 101-88. James went right into the lane for an uncontested, thunderous dunk. Bosh made a big 3 to put Miami up 86-82 with seven minutes left. James made a 3 well beyond the arc to put Miami up seven. And Wade made an and-one jumper over Brandon Bass to put Miami up 98-86. But the Heat won this game on the defensive end, holding the Celtics to just 15 points in the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh deflected an entry pass to Kevin Garnett and blocked a Rondo attempt. Wade made a key strip on Paul Pierce to gain a crucial possession. In some ways, this closeout game resembled Game 5 of the Heat/Celtics series last year. Boston couldn't score in crunch time, and Miami took advantage.
James finished with 31 points on 9-of-21 shooting from the field, 12 rebounds and two big assists for Bosh buckets in the fourth quarter. Bosh came off the bench for the third consecutive time, but played 31 minutes and had a great game. He finished with 19 points on an efficient 8-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds. He made a lot of big plays on both ends of the court in the decisive fourth quarter. It was a great sign to see Bosh outplay Garnett - who had 14 points and seven boards - Saturday night.
The 2006 NBA Finals MVP had 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field and seven-of-eight shooting from the line. Wade also registered six rebounds and six assists. He played a bit better in the first half than he did previously in this series, but again found the seams in the defense after intermission. One particular play had him split the double-team on a pick to go in for a big dunk in the fourth quarter.
This game hardly got off to a good start. Miami was very sloppy, having particular trouble feeding Wade the ball and committing 10 turnovers in the first half. The Boston Celtics built an 11-point lead in the second quarter, getting breakaway baskets off those turnovers. The Celtics even played well during a sequence in the second quarter after Garnett picked up his third foul.
Pundits will focus on the fourth quarter, but the Heat also received some quality contributions from Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier. Batttier made four 3s -- all in the first three quarters -- to keep Miami in the game despite playing a subpar first half. And after struggling in the first half, Chalmers got into the lane on a couple of possessions during a nip-and-tuck third quarter for easy layups. Udonis Haslem, who turned 32 Saturday, chipped in with seven points and six boards, making a couple short hooks on broken Heat possessions.
Game 1 of the Finals is set for Tuesday at 9.