Their season, their legacy, their reign atop the NBA was all at stake, and the Miami Heat responded to all of that in a manner befitting champions.
With a blowout.
It’s onto the NBA Finals for the Heat after they put away the Indiana Pacers, who saw their hopes of a storybook upset simply fall apart in a hurry.
LeBron James scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds, ailing Dwyane Wade matched his postseason high with 21 points, and the Heat ran away from the Pacers 99-76 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night.
The Heat earned the right to play the San Antonio Spurs in a series that starts Thursday night in Miami.
Miami led by as many as 28 points, a shocking amount for a series that had an aggregate score of Heat 569, Pacers 564 entering Monday night. The Heat actually trailed by six in the early going and were still down 21-19 after the first quarter, and it was starting to look like it was going to be one of those down-to-the-wire nights.
Not even close.
James exited with 5:08 left, shaking retired soccer star David Beckham’s hand as he made his way to the Heat bench for a relatively subdued celebration. Not long afterward, security personnel started what’s become a familiar task in Miami — surrounding the court and stretching out a yellow rope, preparing to hold people at bay for the looming on-court trophy presentation.
More than a few people didn’t stick around to see the East title formally presented. After all, it’s an all-or-nothing season for the Heat — and this trophy isn’t the one that will satisfy the Heat.
Ray Allen added 10 points for Miami, which won its 78th game of the season.
Roy Hibbert scored 18 points for the Pacers, who got 14 from David West, 13 from George Hill and 10 from Lance Stephenson. All-Star Paul George was held to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting.
Indiana finished with 21 turnovers, 15 of them in the first half.
The Pacers led 21-19 after the first quarter and took a 23-19 lead on a long jumper by Hibbert.
But the Heat quickly took charge for good.
Two free throws by James and a 3-pointer by Ray Allen gave Miami a 26-23 lead, and the Heat never trailed again.
Their first double-digits lead came on a 3-pointer by Chris Bosh, who struggled to score throughout the series. His shot gave Miami a 39-29 lead with 5:59 left in the opening half.
A basket by Wade just before halftime gave the Heat a 52-37 advantage, and the Pacers couldn’t cut into the lead.