When it was over, when Miami’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and, significantly, Chris Bosh had finally vanquished Boston Saturday night to advance to the NBA Finals, Celtics coach Doc Rivers had an earful for James.
“Go do it,” Rivers said into James’ ear moments after the Heat earned a 101-88 victory in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals – and the right to face Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder for the league championship.
It was as much a declaration of admiration for James as it was well wishes, for James followed up a performance for the ages in Game 6 to save the season with a workmanlike effort to spoil Boston’s upset ambitions.
How did the the Heat advance to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row? Let us count the ways:
* James fashioned another MVP-like performance with 31 points and 12 rebounds. His 30-foot three-pointer with just under six minutes to play pushed the Heat in front 91-84.
”Backbreaker,” Rivers said of James’ shot.
* Bosh, in his third game after missing nine with an abdominal strain, was huge. He scored 19 points to go with 8 rebounds. He made 3 of 4 three-point shots that came when the Heat needed an offensive spark.
”He was big time – every shot, every defensive play, every rebound – we missed him,” James said of Bosh. ”We’re just happy to have him back at the right time. If it wasn’t for him and the rest of the guys that stepped up, we don’t win this game.”
Coach Eric Spoelstra called Bosh, ”Our most important player.”
* Wade came through with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. He was the ideal compliment to James down the stretch, attacking and finishing around the basket when Miami broke open a tie game midway through the fouth quarter.
“I know he’ll always make a way,” James said of Wade.
* The Celtics seemed to have heavy legs in the waning, crucial moments, unable to generate any offense in the last seven minutes. Rajon Rondo had 22 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for Boston, which blew a chance to eliminate Miami by losing by 19 points at home in Game 6. The future of the so-called “Big Three” is a serious question, what with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett becoming free agents this off season.
”One game away on the road, banged up. . . I don’t know if we could have gotten any more from the group,” Rivers said.
In the end, it was more about what the Heat did than what the Celtics did not. James received ample help from his teammates, including Shane Battier (12 points) and Mario Chalmers (nine points, seven assists).
”That’s what we talk about,” Jame said. ”It has to be a collective group to win the championship. Everybody was in tune today. We wanted to give our fans a big win. We look forward to the next challenge.”
The next challenge begins Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. It will be in this series we will learn if James and Co. took Rivers’ advice.