The Miami Heat are in the NBA Finals once again. The Heat beat the Indiana Pacers 99-76 in a winner-take-all Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals Monday night to secure the franchise's third straight conference championship.
Reigning NBA MVP LeBron James led Miami with 32 points, adding 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Dwyane Wade disproved the notion that he is a shell of his former self, scoring 21 points with 9 rebounds.
"You never want to take anything for granted," Wade said afterward. "Being here three straight years in a row, going back to the finals, is an amazing feat. I'm just glad we were able to do it. Everything that happened in the first six games didn't mean anything to us. It was about tonight. It was about Game 7. It was about finding a way to win here at home."
The Heat shot a subpar 40 percent from the field, but helped themselves out with 15 offensive rebounds. Miami also limited Indiana on the offensive glass, grabbing 84 percent of available defensive rebounds.
"By any means necessary ... we took care of business," James said.
Roy Hibbert scored 18 points with 8 rebounds, but was in foul trouble throughout the evening, limiting his minutes on the floor. Paul George also struggled with fouls, fouling out and scoring just 7 points on 2 of 9 shooting.
Chris Bosh scored 9 points and added 8 rebounds, helping limit Hibbert's effectiveness on the offensive glass. Ray Allen seemed to regain his stroke, scoring 10 points off the bench on 3 of 5 shooting from three-point range.
James gave an inspirational pep talk to his teammates Monday morning, but would not say before the game what he said, only insisting that the Heat would be ready. Miami looked loose before the game, reviving the pregame dunk contests that drew so much attention during the regular season.
"They're just an amazing group of guys," said Heat managing general partner Micky Arison. "They've given us an incredible season so far, but it's a long way from over."
After a shaky first quarter when they shot just 8 of 28 from the field, the Heat jumped out in front in the second. Miami outscored Indiana 33-16, giving them a 15-point lead at halftime. The Pacers shot 43% in the first half, but turned the ball over 15 times and gave up 9 offensive rebounds.
The Heat kept their foot on the gas in the third quarter, preventing the Pacers from making any kind of run and extending their lead to 21 points.
Indiana never got within 17 points in the fourth quarter. With 5:08 left in the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pulled James from the game for good. He shook retired soccer star David Beckham's hand as he walked to the bench, but remain subdued, knowing that for his team of superstars, a conference championship means little without an NBA title to go with it.
With the win, the Heat will face the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. The Heat went 2-0 against San Antonio in the regular season, but neither game provides many clues as to how the Finals will go. San Antonio rested four starters in the first meeting, while Wade and James sat out the second game.
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