at Miami 101, Boston 88 (Miami wins, 4-3)
Offensive Ratings: Miami 122.5, Boston 104.6
The Heat's victory over Boston in Saturday's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals sets up the first Finals matchup between the top two in MVP voting since Michael Jordan bested Karl Malone in the 1998 MVP voting and the NBA Finals. The LeBron James-Kevin Durant matchup should be captivating, a battle between two great players who play the same position. It will also serve as a referendum on LeBron's value of a basketball player, and if the Heat fail to win the championship ... .
Before we get carried away with what should be a great Finals, let's take a moment to celebrate how the Heat won the East against the conference's best team over the last several years.
In the first half, everything we thought we knew about the battle-tested Celtics and weak-minded Heat seemed to be true. Boston looked poised, and Miami looked passive. The best example: Paul Pierce and Ray Allen each made 2-of-3 three-pointers, and the Heat made 4-of-13 three-pointers as the Celtics took a seven-point lead.
In the fourth quarter, in which the Heat held a 28-15 advantage, the outside shooting reversed. Miami--including 2-of-2 from Chris Bosh, who made a career-high three-pointers--made 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, and Boston shot 1-of-7.
In many ways, everything is coming together for the Heat, especially its Big Three. During the 26 minutes LeBron (31 points and 12 rebounds), Dwyane Wade (23 points, six rebounds and six assists) and Bosh (19 points, eight rebounds and +17 in 30 minutes) shared the floor, Miami outscored Boston by 21.
This is what the Heat were supposed to do, with LeBron, Wade and Bosh carrying the team and the other players merely filling in the cracks.
Shane Battier made 4-of-9 three-pointers, though Kevin Garnett in the post and other Celtics driving often took advantage of his defense as a four. Mario Chalmers (nine points and seven assists) kept the ball moving. Udonis Haslem (3-of-4 shooting and six rebounds) played efficiently.
From the moment he threw the ball off Wade's back with just a couple seconds left on the shot clock during a baseline inbound to score Boston's first points, Rajon Rondo (22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds) creatively and masterfully led the Celtics. Garnett, Pierce and Allen played well overall, but the way they slowed in the fourth quarter of a trying game--shooting a combined 3-for-10 and not getting to the free-throw line--indicates Boston's run as a contender might be ending.
LeBron and the Heat did enough to change the narrative for a day, winning the final two games of the Eastern Conference Finals and pulling away in maybe Miami's biggest game of the Heatles era. Facing the Knicks then Pacers then Celtics has, as it should, given the Heat an increasingly tougher test in each round of the playoffs. That shouldn't change with the Thunder, and after barely slipping past Boston, Miami probably should be viewed as the underdog in the next round.
Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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