NEW YORK: The Miami Heat and their Big Three are going back to the NBA finals. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for the Heat’s final 31 points as they roared past the Boston Celtics 101-88 to win the Eastern Conference championship in Game 7 Saturday.
James scored 31 points and pulled down 12 rebounds while the Heat came back from an 11-point first half deficit to earn a meeting with Western winner the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals. Game 1 is set for Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
“We look forward to the next challenge,” James told reporters as he talked about the Heat’s return to the NBA finals for a second consecutive year.
Miami had hoped the crown would be theirs last season with the addition of James and Bosh, but they were beaten in the finals by the Dallas Mavericks.
The Heat and Thunder played only twice this season, each winning on their home court.
Wade added 23 points Saturday with Bosh scoring 19 off the bench and role player Shane Battier contributing four key 3-pointers.
“This has to be a collective group for us to win a championship, from the first guy all the way down to 15,” three-time league most valuable player James said.
“Everybody was in tune today and we wanted to give our fans a big win tonight and we were able to do that.”
Rajon Rondo tried to keep the aging Celtics competitive, and they were for three quarters before the Miami’s Big Three took over.
“We let this one slip away,” said Rondo, who finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.
“We just had nothing left,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers after his team had gone deeper in the Eastern series than many had thought likely against the Heat.
Paul Pierce added 19 point and Brandon Bass, the sparkplug of the Celtics’ first half lead, finished with 16.
But he had only two points in the second half as Miami cranked up three defense and turned to their Big Three for all of their fourth quarter points.
What turned out to be a nip-and-tuck third quarter ended in a 73-73 tie and after Ray Allen drilled home a three-pointer for Boston’s final lead at 82-81 with 8:49 to go in the game, James and company took over.
James put Miami back up with a monster dunk, Bosh added the last of his career-best three 3-pointers and James scored again, and suddenly the Heat fans were ready to celebrate.
“He was big time. Every shot, every defensive play, every defensive rebound,” James said of Bosh, who played his biggest role since returning earlier in the series from a strained lower abdominal muscle.
“We missed him and are just happy to have him back at the right time,” he added.