It took seven games, but LeBron James and the Miami Heat are headed back to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. James put up 32 points and 8 rebounds to lead the Heat to a 99-76 blowout against the Indiana Pacers Monday night. The Heat won the NBA Finals last year, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games, and will look to repeat against the San Antonio Spurs in the series starting Thursday.
“You never want to take anything for granted,” said Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who bounced back from a miserable Game 6 with 21 points and 9 rebounds. “Being here three straight years in a row, going back to the finals, is an amazing feat. … Everything that happened in the first six games didn't mean anything to us. It was about tonight. It was about Game 7.”
The defending champs and the upstart Pacers traded wins through the first six games of the Eastern Conference finals and entered Monday with an aggregate score of Heat 569, Pacers 564.
The Pacers led by two points at the end of the first quarter, suggesting another close game. But Wade’s shots repeatedly found the basket and James’ defense smothered Indiana star Paul George. While George scored 27 points in Game 5 and 28 points in Game 6, James was finally able to shut down the 23-year-old, holding him to just 7 points Monday.
It was a game of redemption for several Heat players. Wade, the MVP of the 2005-2006 NBA Championship, finally made a positive impact on the court. Forward Chris Bosh played well after apologizing to his teammates for his poor performance in Saturday’s game.
“It’s just a privilege to be with this great team, great teammates, and we have another opportunity to go back to where we are,” Bosh said. “You never really want to get it out of the way too much. Game 7’s don’t happen too often. We enjoyed it and now we have to move on.”