With their season and reign atop the NBA on the line, the Miami Heat responded with a 99-76 rout of the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Heat were led by LeBron James with 32 points and eight rebounds, and Dwayne Wade with 21 points.
The win put Miami in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. They will play the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 Thursday night in Miami.
The Heat had alternated wins and losses with the Pacers for six games in this hard-fought and closely contested series, and Indiana actually led by six in the early going of Game 7. Miami trailed by two at the end of the first quarter.
But a Game 7 that appeared to be headed toward another close finish did not materialize. The Heat began to take control, had a 15 point lead at halftime, and led by as many as 28 points in the second half.
The Pacers were led by Roy Hibbert with 18 points, David West with 14, and George Hill with 13. All-Star Paul George was held to just seven points.
George was the last Indiana player to leave the floor, shaking hands with anyone he could find while Miami prepared for its postgame celebration before being walked to the locker room by Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who put his arm over his star’s shoulder.
Indiana took consolation in the fact that they exceeded expectations this year, their deep run in the playoffs catching most observers by surprise.
Said George, “The great thing is we’re a young team and we are past the building stage. This is really our first year tasting success. The rate we are going, we see championships soon.”
Maybe so, but as for now, it was Miami’s night.
The Heat have now reached the NBA Finals all three years of the “Big-Three” era, losing to Dallas in 2011 and beating Oklahoma City in five games last year.