The HEAT battled a resillient Celtics team that refused to die all night, winning 101-88 in South Beach and stamping their ticket for a second trip to the NBA Finals in as many years.
The game began jittery and unpredictable, including a resolute stance by a boxer on his night, refusing to fight until the final result. Manny Pacquiao had as much staked in this game as the Celtics themselves, a huge fan of the C’s that wanted to view the action up to the final buzzer before entering the ring. The distraction would be his undoing, losing a controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley and making another Celtics fan casualty to a tops-HEAT performance.
At the start it was as expected. A HEAT team on the brink, trailing all of the first half that struggled against a Celtic team in the same position. Two immovable forces, perrennial freight-trains blasting down the same track toward eachother at 100 mph. Both teams with everything to lose and history to gain with a win. Both teams refusing to quit, physicality on all ends of the court, and a big question mark hovering over a LeBron James that managed only 5 shot attempts in the first half.
Would LeBron turn it on? Would he get a little help from his friends and bench supporting cast to seal a win and get back to the finals? Would Chris Bosh return not just in the lineup but as the 3rd All-Star on the HEAT’s roster?
Yes, yes, and YES were the answers by the final buzzer. LeBron came alive in the final half, and the HEAT bench contributed by a sole-performing Chris Bosh, bringing 19 points and a surprising, show-stealing 3-4 from 3 point land including a critical late-4th quarter splash to get the lead that the HEAT would never relinquish. He killed 2 birds with one shot, being the much-needed bench scoring (the only HEAT bench scoring which was a rarity) and iron-man on both sides of the floor in his 31 minutes played. The Celtics had no answers despite their balanced team attack, getting another great performance from Rajon Rondo who netted a triple double of 22 points, 14 assists 10 rebounds. In the end, both teams had 6 pieces that scored in the game on each side, but it was the HEAT’s combination that brought the victory, and it was the HEAT’s big 3 that would be ultimately greater, better, best in the game 7 contest.
Despite the slow start, LeBron came back in the 2nd half with a fury similar to his lights-out performance in game 6. But this time, it was only (only? serioulsy?) 31 points which included a 27 foot monster-kabang 3 pointer that rivaled Pierce’s late game dagger game 5. His resolve, coupled with Bosh and Wade’s spread-the-floor spacing ability kept a weary Celtics team on their heels for the final 24 minutes, reclaiming the lead and bringing the series full circle. In the end it was predictability by Wade who continued to struggle on the shooting end, posting 23 points and 4 turnovers. It was a HEAT team that was what it was with few surprises. LeBron James the assasin, Wade and Bosh the role players on defense and providing the key shots, when they hit them to sustain the lead. It was 73 points from the superfriends, which when applied at this level, regardless of who scores them ends most games regular season or playoffs with a win. That was the difference, the one that has been missed for so long during the rough patch of this series and the two back-to-back losses against the Pacers in round 2. Finallly, HEAT basketball has returned-how fitting for a game 7 Eastern Conference Finals win?
For the Celtics, who played outstanding basketball over 28 quarters this series, it is a lonely trip home and reflection on past seasons of excellence together. There will no doubt be some changes come next season for them, but no loss in pride here as they played phenomenal hoop. Nobody believed they would get to the conference finals, nobody thought they would hang with the HEAT over a 7 game grind. Nobody believed they would play quality minutes with the knocks and age that have shown throughout this season. And still they preservered. At the end, it was about a younger, stronger team playing in-the-zone, passing another team who’s star(s) were fading away from relevance. Bravo to the Celtics with fond farewell. For the victorious HEAT, a new chapter begins Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.