For LeBron James, the night was emotional and unforgettable.
And imagine: The Miami Heat are only halfway through the pursuit of an NBA title.
Finally vanquishing their rivals from Boston, Dwyane Wade scored 34 points, James added 33 — including a spectacular closing flourish — and the Heat went on a 16-0 run over the final 4:15 to beat the Celtics 97-87 on Wednesday and win their Eastern Conference semifinal series in five games.
When it was over, James took a knee, oblivious to the photographers who quickly surrounded him in Miami's celebration. By then, some of the Celtics were already back in the locker room, skipping the customary end-of-series handshakes. James didn't seem to notice.
"Everything went through my mind at that point," James said. "Finally getting over this hump against this team. Everything I went through this summer, with 'The Decision' and deciding to come down here to be a part of this team ... because I knew how important team is to this sport ... and all the backlash I got from it.
"I'd be up here for two hours if I tell you exactly everything that went through my head. Very emotional at that point, you know, and happy we got through it as a team."
That they did — as a team.
James Jones hit a 3-pointer that kickstarted the final push, and Chris Bosh finished with 14 points — none of them more important than the two coming when he blew past Kevin Garnett for a game-tying dunk with 2:57 left.
Wade carried Miami early, then James finished the job. His personal 10-0 run to close the game put some long-simmering Celtics demons to rest.
"I play with the two best players in the league," Bosh said. "And we do this together."
True, this was about the collective.
And in the end, for James, it was also personal. The Boston series a year ago was painful for him, as was the summer — and the fallout — that followed after he left Cleveland.
"I apologize for the way it happened," James said. "But I knew that this opportunity was once in a lifetime."
"Right now, I am really upset," Pierce said. "I wish I could have played better tonight. Unfortunately we came up on the short end of the stick. I tip my hat off to Miami. They really played great basketball."
Rajon Rondo finished with six points in 31 minutes for Boston, playing with what appeared to be a slimmer brace over the still-painful left elbow that he dislocated during Game 3.
"I know we gave a lot in Game 3," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "And I don't know if we could ever get that effort back."
The Celtics got one measure of a victory Wednesday night: Ending months of speculation, Rivers said he will likely return to coach next season.
"I'm a Celtic," Rivers said. "And I love our guys."
So while he could start thinking of the future, James was trying to put away the past.
Exactly one year earlier, James was maligned in Cleveland when the Cavaliers were embarrassed by theCeltics, 120-88 in Game 5 of that East semifinal series. Boston won in six games, the finale of that matchup being James' last game with the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003.
He wound up in Miami, alongside Wade and Bosh, aiming to chase a title.
Eight wins down, eight wins to go.
"When you're playing this game, and you have another guy over there doing the things and as capable as LeBron, not only am I a fan on the court, but it makes the game easier," Wade said. "Obviously."
James put Miami up for good with a 3-pointer with 2:10 remaining, then added a game-sealing — more aptly, a series-sealing — 3 with 40.4 seconds left, then turned and posed for some fans who screamed in delight.
A steal and two-handed slam 6 seconds later for good measure, followed by a Celtics turnover, got the party started. It was over, the Heat and Celtics knew it, and Rivers stood silently near the bench, his arms folded across his chest as James ran down the clock on Miami's final offensive possession of the series.
Of course, he scored.
Boston was done, thoroughly worn down by a younger, more athletic opponent. The Celtics won the first three meetings between the clubs this season, then lost five of the final six.
"It was a series that all of us wanted, really since training camp," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Wade was knocked over into some courtside seats trying to snare the final rebound, but that only prolonged the moment. James knelt in prayer for several seconds, then ran over to wrap Wade in a long embrace as the fans screamed loudly.
"D-Wade, he made it real difficult," Celtics forward Glen Davis said. "He came through. He carried the team. He willed them to win. He carried them just long enough for LeBron to knock us out."
The Heat said often in this series, Boston laid the plan for what Miami needed to ultimately do to become champions.
James said it again when it was over Wednesday night.
"It's a great team," James said of Boston in the on-court celebration. "Like I said, I got the utmost respect for that team. They're the reason why all three of us came together, is because of what they did, that blueprint they had in '08 when they all came together. So it's a great team win and get ready for our next opponent."
It's Miami's fourth trip to the East finals, its first since 2006.