The jokes about LeBron James, the Miami Heat and the missing fourth quarter will have to end now. After three tense, tight quarters in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between Miami and the Boston Celtics, the score was tied at 73-73. And then Miami exploded to win 101-88.
Contrary to critical expectations, the Heat came on strong in the fourth quarter, with the Big Three, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, scoring all 28 of Miami's points in the final period.
Until then the game had been in the balance. For 13 minutes from the middle of the third period and into the fourth quarter, a span of 46 dizzying possessions, neither team led by more than two points. That changed when Bosh hit his third 3-pointer - the first time he has ever done so - with 7:17 left. James made a runner on the next Miami trip, and the Heat had their biggest lead of the night, 88-82 with 6:54 remaining. James then made a 30-foot 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to make it 91-84. Even mistakes were going Miami's way, as James lost a behind-the-back dribble, only to have the ball skip into Battier's hands. Bosh scored from inside the lane to end that possession.
Wade scored on the next possession, the lead was 95-86 with 3:23 left, Boston called time and the building was rocking. James did plenty of talking on the Heat bench in that stoppage, clearly saying the word "Finish" at one point. A three-point play by Wade with 2:53 left all but sealed it, the Heat were up 12 and just the last rites were left for Boston.
The Heat will now advance to the NBA championships to face the Oklahoma City Thunder, starting on Tuesday.
The Celtics will reflect on a splendid playoff run but will be left to wonder how many of the old stars - Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen - will still be around next season. It was the seventh game seven for the Big Three but probably the last.
Rajon Rondo finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for Boston and Paul Pierce had 19 points. Brandon Bass scored 16, Ray Allen 15 and Kevin Garnett scored 14. Early on it seemed like the Celtics could be going to another finals, leading 23-14 in the first quarter and still ahead by seven at half-time.
But then the Heat forced their way back into the game: James had 31 points and 12 rebounds, Dwyane Wade scored 23 points as the Heat rallied from as many as 11 points down to beat the Celtics.
The reappearance after injury of Chris Bosh has helped drive the Heat. Bosh finished with 19 points off the Miami bench, and made a 3-pointer that sparked a huge Heat run to end the game. Miami won the first two games of the series, but, still missing Bosh, lost the next three and found themselves under pressure and mounting criticism. But James had a huge Game 6, scoring 45 points in a crushing 98-79 victory and then showed off his full range of skills in the critical Game 7. James scored at least 25 points in all seven games.