By: Jeremy Marks-Peltz
MIAMI-- It took six full games and three and a half quarters of Game 7, but the Boston Celtics have been slayed. The broken Miami Heat are going back to the NBA Finals, and going back there as a whole.
Saturday night was no one-man show.
The fourth quarter of the Heat’s Eastern Conference Finals clinching 101-88 triumph showcased what we all knew was possible with Miami’s Big Three: They have not one, not two, but three closers. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all collaborated for 28 fourth quarter points and spearheaded a suffocating defensive attack, which finally took the wind out of the Celtics sails.
LeBron (31 points, 12 rebounds) finished off his sixth 30-point game of the series with an array of dunks, hard drives to the hoop, and a 31-foot three pointer to boot, accounting for 11 points in the fourth quarter. Just like he was in Game 6, LeBron was certainly clutch, and in Game 7 he was a closer. Wade, following another horrific first half, scored nine of his 14 second half points in the final 12 minutes, fearlessly driving to the hoop and hitting tough shot after tough shot.
It was the Heat's third leading scorer, however, that probably had the most significant contribution. Chris Bosh hit two of his career high three three-pointers in the final period, had 19 points for the game (8 in the 4th), and provided the backbone to the Heat win. On Saturday night Bosh felt like the most irreplaceable player on the team, as Erik Spoelstra likes to label him.
So what does this all mean? Nothing to the team, because this season was championship or bust. But to the two that were most on the hot seat, I believe they have a measure of validation. For Spoelstra, I don’t think his job was seriously on the line, but a second straight trip to the NBA Finals should dispel any major discussion of a coaching change. You don’t fire a coach who reaches the championship two straight years. You just don’t.
And for LeBron James? This should go down as his most successful season, title or no title. Seriously, how are we going to say LeBron isn't “clutch” when, in the three biggest games of the season, LBJ responded with 40-18-9, 45-15-5, and an 11-point fourth quarter? You can’t. LeBron has had a masterful season by winning an MVP, single-handedly preventing his team from elimination, and possibly disintegration, and doing what was asked him in the final two games: Be in attack mode, ask for the ball in crunch time, and deliver. LeBron’s career can still be put on trial, but this season, unless he takes a nap in the NBA Finals, LeBron James gets a pass in my book. If he doesn't win the title, that is.
Before we get geared up for the NBA Finals, there’s aren't enough superlatives to describe the Boston Celtics. They fought unbelievably hard, right to the five-minute mark of Game 7, when it was clear they hit their limit. Even injured, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen stuck huge shots down the Heat’s throats. Kevin Garnett, for most of the series, looked 26, not 36. Rajon Rondo simply outplayed Wade. As a Heat fan, I want the Celtics broken up. I don’t want to have to see my team face them again.
This year, the Celtics are history, however. Now we approach what should be an epic NBA Finals that could provide any of the following outcomes: LBJ finally getting his ring, a legendary LeBron-Durant duel ending in a seven-game Oklahoma City triumph, the deeper and younger Thunder shredding the gassed Heat apart, or the Heat’s Big 3 showing OKC there is still growing up to do.
One thing is for sure: This is the best NBA Finals that anyone could have asked for.
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