LeBron James lived up to his reputation as a big-time scorer in Game 7's, and his 11-point fourth quarter put the cherry on top of the Miami Heat's 101-88 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, sending the Heat back to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season.
James finished with 31 points on 9-of-21 shooting. Dwyane Wade finished with 23 points, Chris Bosh had 19 points (including three huge three pointers), Shane Battier scored 12, all on threes, and Mario Chalmers had nine points as Miami topped 50 percent shooting.
Rajon Rondo became the first player to record a triple-double in two Game 7's (he did so in the Eastern Conference Semifinals this year against the Philadelphia 76ers), totaling 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Paul Pierce scored 19, Brandon Bass had 16 points, Kevin Garnett amassed 14 points and seven rebounds and Ray Allen tallied 15 points.
Miami's defense, coupled with Boston's porous perimeter defense, made it appear as if the Celtics were in for a long night early on, but after the Heat took a 12-10 lead, the Celts went on a 13-2 run to pull ahead by nine, 23-14, with 4:11 to go. Miami cut its deficit to two shortly thereafter, but a running jumper from Rondo pushed Boston's lead to 27-23 after twelve minutes. Allen made two threes in the quarter and led the Celtics with eight points. James also scored eight in the opening quarter for Miami, which had six turnovers.
Bass took control in the second quarter, scoring 10 to bring his halftime total up to 14 points (tied for a game-high with James, who scored six in the period). Pierce also scored eight, making two of three treys, but the key for the Celtics was their ability to go on a run with Garnett on the bench after picking up his third foul (an offensive foul) at the 7:08 mark. As soon as Garnett sat down, the Celtics went on a 14-4 run to capture a game-high 11 point lead (49-38 at 3:12). Bass scored all 10 of his points during the run, including a big dunk on a fast break over Wade. Miami would pull within five in the final minute, but Allen's layup with 22.8 seconds left gave the Celts a 53-46 edge, which would hold until the intermission.
The break cooled off the Celtics, as Miami opened the third on a 13-6 run and tied the game at 59 on a Wade jumper at 7:13. Garnett and Rondo traded buckets for Boston during the middle of the third, but Miami answered them step for step and would take a 67-66 lead with 3:30 remaining in the frame. Rondo would score the last seven points (he scored 10 in the period) for Boston, but Miami again answered, leading to a 73-73 tie after three quarters.
After three quarters of leading or staying close, Boston finally wilted in the fourth, and it wasn't a particularly graceful fall. Boston led 82-81 with 8:49 to play, and that was the last time they would lead this season. A dunk from James put the Heat up 83-82, and Miami would stretch its lead to as many as 13 points (twice), ending the Celtics' season.
Miami opens up the 2012 NBA Finals on Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.