Once again facing the pressure of an elimination game that could have resulted in a dismantling of the franchise, the Heat looked cool and composed as it brushed off Boston late in the fourth quarter of a classic thriller.
Two nights after scoring 45 points in a huge blowout victory that kept the Celtics from the clinching the series on their home court, James roused the American Airlines Arena crowd by muscling in layups, slamming home dunks and hitting critical late field goals, one well beyond the three-point arc.
He led Miami with 32 points and 12 rebounds.
“It’s been a journey,” James said. “It’s been a long ride. . . . We didn’t shortcut anything this year. We said to each other, ‘It’s time. It’s time.’ ”
For the Celtics, the defeat brought sadness and a bit of nostalgia. It wasn’t just the end of a series, but also the end of a rich, celebrated era. There likely will not be another Finals opportunity for the NBA’s first big three, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. The trio, assembled in 2007, won one NBA title together in 2008.
“It’s probably the worst feeling that we feel in our lives, in our careers,” Allen said. “Now, there’s so much emotion. This one hit me hard. We wanted it so bad.”
But after hanging close with Miami for the first 41 minutes of the game, Boston couldn’t keep pace late. The Heat got 23 points from Wade, who tallied six rebounds and six assists. Bosh contributed 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds; Shane Battier scored 12, all on three-point field goals.
Pierce led Boston with 19 points as Brandon Bass chipped in 16, Ray Allen, 15, and Garnett tallied 14. Rajon Rondo scored 22, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out 14 assists.
“We had nothing left, that’s how it felt as a coach,” Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. “Everything was front of the rim. We started throwing balls away. They started beating us off the dribble. . . . [It’s] frustrating as a coach. It felt like, ‘Let’s get away from them, let’s get away from them. We can’t let them hang around.’ And we did.”
Miami won the first two and final two games of this series as Boston won three in the middle. Two of the games went to overtime and only Game 6 was not close. James, who in last year’s six-game defeat in the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks largely disappeared in the fourth quarters, might have put a lasting stamp on his career with his otherworldly performance in the final two games. Tonight, he and the Heat stood tall in waning minutes; he scored 11 points in the final period.