After a long and arduous series in which the efforts of perennial NBA All-Stars were questioned, the Miami Heat responded with a thumping of the Indiana Pacers in Game Seven at American Airlines Arena on Monday night to advance to the NBA Finals, 99-76.
LeBron James, the reigning regular-season MVP, led all scorers with 32 points, and grabbed eight rebounds. Ball possession was once again a top factor in the outcome, with the Pacers turning the ball over 21 times, compared to 10 by the Heat. Miami also outrebounded Indiana, 43-36.
The Heat return to the Finals for the third straight season, as the trio of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh continue their impressive run since joining up in South Florida as free agents in the summer of 2010. While James was his typical exceptional self throughout the series, Wade and Bosh had their troubles in Games Four, Five, and Six, but bounced back in the series finale.
Wade finished Game Seven with 21 points and nine rebounds, while Bosh hit two important shots in the second quarter in a crucial stretch that extended the Heat's lead from five points to 10, while James rested on the bench. Bosh was considerably demonstrative after hitting the three-point shot that prompted the Pacers coaching staff to call timeout. The Pacers failed to cut into the lead from that point forward, as the Heat would eventually surge to a 28-point advantage.
"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," said Bosh. "You never really want to get it out of the way too much. Game Sevens don't happen too often. We enjoyed it and now we have to move on."
The Heat will be moving on to face the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday in Miami. The Spurs can be described as either rested or rusty, as Gregg Popovich's squad has not played since completing a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies on May 27. The Heat won the season series with the Spurs, 2-0, but only by a total of seven points.
Though the Pacers were eliminated, their efforts have elevated the club to a new level of respect, particularly small forward Paul George. The 23-year-old had his second worst performance of the playoffs in Game Seven with just a seven-point output, but George was a major reason for the Pacers' postseason success. He averaged 18.7 points per game against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, and then followed that up with a 19.5 average against the New York Knicks. George averaged 19.4 points against the Heat, and had notable moments such as a thunderous dunk over Bosh in Game Six.
"The great thing is we're a young team and we are past the building stage," George said. "This is really our first year tasting success. The rate we are going, we see championships soon."