MIAMI (AP) — For LeBron James, Game 5 last season against Boston was horrific.
A year later, Game 5 was humbling.
And he and the Miami Heat are halfway to an NBA championship, having finally found a way to vanquish the Celtics.
Dwyane Wade scored 34 points, James added 33 — including the game’s last 10 in a spectacular closing flourish, part of Miami’s 16-0 run over the final 4:15 — and the Heat beat the Celtics 97-87 on Wednesday night to win their Eastern Conference semifinal series in five games.
When it was over, James knelt on the court, oblivious to the photographers who quickly surrounded him in Miami’s celebration.
“Everything went through my mind at that point,” James said. “Finally getting over this hump against this team. Everything I went through this summer, with ‘The Decision’ and deciding to come down here to be a part of this team ... because I knew how important team is to this sport ... and all the backlash I got from it.
“I’d be up here for two hours if I tell you exactly everything that went through my head. Very emotional at that point, you know, and happy we got through it as a team.”
That they did — as a team.
James Jones hit a 3-pointer that kickstarted the final push, and Chris Bosh finished with 14 points — none of them more important than the two coming when he blew past Kevin Garnett for a game-tying dunk with 2:57 left.
Wade carried Miami early, then James finished the job. His personal 10-0 run to close the game put some long-simmering Celtics demons to rest.
“I play with the two best players in the league,” Bosh said. “And we do this together.”
True, this was about the collective.
And in the end, for James, it was also personal. The Boston series a year ago was painful for him, as was the summer — and the fallout — that followed after he left Cleveland.
“I apologize for the way it happened,” James said. “But I knew that this opportunity was once in a lifetime.”
Ray Allen led Boston with 18 points. Garnett had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Paul Pierce scored 12 and Delonte West added 10.
“Right now, I am really upset,” Pierce said. “I wish I could have played better tonight. Unfortunately we came up on the short end of the stick. I tip my hat off to Miami. They really played great basketball.”
Rajon Rondo finished with six points in 31 minutes for Boston, playing with what appeared to be a slimmer brace over the still-painful left elbow that he dislocated during Game 3.
“I know we gave a lot in Game 3,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “And I don’t know if we could ever get that effort back.”
The Celtics got one measure of a victory Wednesday night: Ending months of speculation, Rivers said he will likely return to coach next season.
“I’m a Celtic,” Rivers said. “And I love our guys. I want to win again here. I’m competitive as hell, I have a competitive group. So we’ll see. That’s where I’m at today. Tomorrow I may change my mind.”
Exactly one year earlier, James was maligned in Cleveland when the Cavaliers were embarrassed by the Celtics, 120-88 in Game 5 of that East semifinal series. Boston won in six games, the finale of that matchup being James’ last game with the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003.
He wound up in Miami, alongside Wade and Bosh, aiming to chase a title.
Eight wins down, eight wins to go.
Next up for the Heat is the East finals against either Chicago or Atlanta, a series that may begin as early as Sunday. Chicago leads 3-2 with Game 6 tonight.
“When you’re playing this game, and you have another guy over there doing the things and as capable as LeBron, not only am I a fan on the court, but it makes the game easier,” Wade said. “Obviously.”
James put Miami up for good with a 3-pointer with 2:10 remaining, then added a game-sealing — more aptly, a series-sealing — 3 with 40.4 seconds left, then turned and posed for some fans who screamed in delight.