MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James finally got a Game 7 victory, on his third try.
Next up, the NBA finals — and his third try at that elusive first championship.
James had 31 points and 12 rebounds, Chris Bosh hit a career-best three 3-pointers — the last sparking the run that put it away — and the Miami Heat won their second straight Eastern Conference title by beating the Boston Celtics 101-88 in Game 7 on Saturday night.
Miami opens the title series in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
Dwyane Wade scored and Shane Battier added 12 for the Heat, who won a Game 7 for the first time since 2004 — Wade’s rookie season.
Rajon Rondo finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for Boston, which got 19 points from Paul Pierce in what might be the last game of the “Big Four” era for the Celtics.
Boston took out its starters with 28.3 seconds left. By then, workers already had a rope around the perimeter of the court, preparing for the East trophy presentation.
Down by seven at the half and eight early in the third quarter, Miami started clawing back. An 8-0 run tied it at 59-all, capped by Wade hitting a jumper, and then the fun really started.
There were six lead changes and five more ties in the final 7 minutes of the third. Bosh scored with 29 seconds left for the last of those ties, and it was 73-all going into the fourth.
Six games decided nothing, and nothing was decided in Game 7 until the very last moments, neither team yielding much of anything. Battier’s 3-pointer with 8:06 left in the third cut Boston’s lead at the time to 59-57.
And back and forth they went.
For the next 13 minutes, a span of 46 dizzying, unbelievable possessions, neither team led by more than two points.
That finally changed when Bosh his third 3-pointer with 7:17 left. James made a runner on the next Miami trip, and suddenly the Heat had their biggest lead of the night to that point, 88-82 with 6:54 remaining.
They were on their way.
James made a 3-pointer — it went into the books as a 30-footer, as he leaped from atop one of the Eastern Conference finals stickers on the floor — as the shot clock was expiring with just under 6 minutes left, making it 91-84. Even mistakes were going Miami’s way, as James lost a behind-the-back dribble, only to have the ball skip right into Battier’s hands.
Bosh scored from inside the lane to end that possession. Wade scored on the next one, the lead was 95-86 with 3:23 left, Boston called time and the building was simply rocking. James did plenty of talking on the Heat bench in that stoppage, clearly saying the word “Finish” at one point.
They listened. A three-point play by Wade with 2:53 left all but sealed it, the Heat were up 12, and Oklahoma City beckoned.
Brandon Bass scored 16, Ray Allen finished with 15 and Kevin Garnett scored 14 for the Celtics, who know next season could bring big changes.
A team that was under .500 at the All-Star break almost made the NBA finals.
Boston’s first score came when the Celtics were inbounding from under their own basket with 1.2 seconds left on the shot clock. Rondo surveyed the defense, then decided to simply toss the ball off Wade’s back, catch it and score himself.
It was an omen — the Celtics got plenty of easy scores early.
Boston ran out to a 23-14 lead, before the Heat settled down and tied it twice in the second quarter, the last of those at 35-all with 6:50 left. It was then that Garnett left with his third foul. Heat on a run, Garnett going to the bench, so momentum Miami, right?
Bass scored 10 points in a stretch of just over 3 minutes to spark a 14-3 run, with the Celtics scoring three times off turnovers in that stretch. Allen waltzed in unbothered for a layup with 22 seconds left in the half, and Boston took a 53-46 lead into the break. And the least surprised person in the arena was Rivers, who sensed at the morning shootaround that his team would be sharp for Game 7.
Just in the end, Miami was sharper.