After years of frustration from the Boston Celtics, LeBron James turned up his game late and the celebration was on.
Dwyane Wade scored 34 points, James added 33, including the final 10 in a game—sealing 16—0 closing run, and the Heat beat the visiting Celtics 97—87 on Wednesday night to wrap up their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, 4—1.
“I wanted this game,” Wade told his teammates at halftime. “LeBron looked at me and said I got your back. He had my back in a big way.” Before making the well—documented, controversial off—season decision to move to Miami, James and his Cleveland Cavaliers had been eliminated two of the last three post—seasons by Boston.
Armed with All—Stars Wade and newcomer Chris Bosh, James finally exorcised the demons, knocking off the Eastern Conference Champions.
“Finally getting over the hump against this team and everything I went through this summer, it feels great,” James said.
“I’ve been through playoff series and regular season games not having much success against those guys. I knew deep down in my heart I couldn’t do it by myself.
“I’d look at Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, they were just sending multiple waves of talent against you. I knew I had to get to a team who could match them.” Bosh contributed 14 points with 11 rebounds for second—seeded Miami, which advanced to its first conference final since winning the 2006 NBA Championship.
“Competing for a championship is extremely hard,” Bosh said. “It’s a great feeling. There’s more to go.” The Heat await the winner of the Chicago—Atlanta series. The Bulls lead 3—2 with close—out game six on Thursday night.
Allen scored 18 points and Garnett added 15 with 11 rebounds for the third—seeded Celtics, who were hampered by injuries to Rajon Rondo (dislocated left elbow) and Jermaine O’Neal (sore back) but victimized by Wade and James.
“Those two guys are monsters,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Wade and James, “When they’re making shots, it makes it very difficult.” Seeking to stay alive and take the series back to Boston for game six, the Celtics led by seven early in the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold it.
Instead, the Heat rallied. James Jones nailed a three—pointer, Bosh threw down a two—handed dunk and James hit a high—arching triple, putting Miami ahead 90—87 lead with 2:10 to play.
After empty possessions at both ends, James drilled his fifth triple of the game with 40.4 seconds remaining, opening up a 93—87 advantage.
James added a layup off a steal and another easy basket to seal the emotional win and knelt to the court for several minutes to embrace the moment in front of a wildly—cheering sold—out crowd AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I’d be up here for two hours if I tell you exactly everything that went through my head,” he said. “Very emotional at that point, you know, and happy we got through it as a team.” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra marveled over James’ late—game heroics.
“It was an absolute self—will in a team—will concept,” he said.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.
“Down the stretch that’s what greatness is all about. You need your best players to do something special. A 10—0 run by himself and steal to cap it was terrific.” Said Rivers: “It’s not the way you want to end the game or the season.” Despite the early exit, the Celtics received some good news from Rivers, who said he is “leaning towards coming back” next season for another championship run after contemplating taking a year off.
“I don’t think this team is done yet,” he said. “We have to add some people. Other than that, I’m a Celtic, I love our guys, I’m competitive and I want to win again here.” Elsewhere: Oklahoma City 99, Memphis 72 Kevin Durant scored 19 points before sitting out the fourth quarter, reserve Daequan Cook added 18 and the Thunder routed the visiting Grizzlies to grab a 3—2 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.
“Our guys did a good job staying focused and in the moment,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Now it’s time to just move on.” The fourth—seeded Thunder can wrap up the series in game six Friday night at Memphis and book a spot in the conference finals.
Spaniard Marc Gasol had 16 points to pace eighth—seeded Memphis, which shot a season—low 36 per cent from the floor (28—of—88).
Keywords: NBA playoffs