LeBron James had 32 points and Dwyane Wade added 21 to lead the Miami Heat to a 99-76 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the NBA's Eastern Conference finals Monday night at American Airlines Arena. The Heat now move on to their third consecutive NBA Finals, where they will meet the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 on Thursday night.
James has shown over the years that he lives for Game 7s, where he always scores well, and Monday night was no different. He finished just 2 ½ points under his career average in seventh and deciding matches.
The Pacers, who won the first quarter 21-19, became turnover happy, and by the end of the half were behind by a whopping 15 points. In addition to the deficit, the Pacers committed 15 of their turnovers in the first two quarters, and took 15 fewer shots.
A big problem for Indiana Monday night was the obvious frustration of Paul George, who fouled out in the last quarter tallying only 7 points and hitting only 2 of 9 shots. He just couldn’t handle James, who in addition to making 8 of 17 field goals, got to the foul line 16 times, hitting 15 of his charity shots. James in fact has been working out on the free throw line this year with teammate Ray Allen, who’s perennially one of the best free throw shooters in the NBA, and James has made it clear in recent months that his great improvement in this area is no fluke.
And speaking of Allen, he came off the bench for 10 very helpful points – including three 3-pointers. However, Chris Bosh continues his offensive struggles. He was only 3-of-13 Monday night, but did manage to block 3 shots.
But the offensive juggernaut of James and Wade got the Heat to what was, at one instance, a 28-point lead in the second half. The Heat prevailed with points in the paint (30-28) and due largely to Wade’s 6 offensive rebounds, massacred Indiana in second-chance points (22-12). The Heat also managed to win the overall battle on the glass, 43-36.
But the big statistic hanging over the game was the Pacers’ inability to control the ball. They gave the ball up 21 times compared with only 11 for the Heat. And the Heat’s relentless pick-and-rolls and drives in the lane drove up the fouls on the Pacers, who committed 28 as contrasted with Miami’s 22. And in the absence of Paul George’s tight defense on James, Indiana’s Roy Hibbert was having troubles of his own. He did score 18 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, but also racked up 5 fouls in what could only be called a tentative performance.
Hibbert had some off-court troubles the day before, when he was fined $75,000 by the NBA for “vulgar” language and homophobic references he uttered during a press conference following Game 6. He later apologized, but the episode seemed to greatly rattle the Pacers’ 7’ 2” center, who afterward sent a late-night tweet to Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the NBA, asking for some time to get together with him for a chat. It is not a stretch to say that Hibbert wasn’t mentally 100% for what was arguably the biggest game in his life to that point.
But in the end, the James-Wade tidal wave just rolled over the relatively inexperienced Pacers, with the two Heat stars hitting a combined 15 of 33 shots from the floor and 22 of 23 free throws. After the game, Wade was asked how he felt about finally getting in an offensive rhythm in the series. He replied that it wasn’t about Games 1 through 6. It was about getting to a Game 7 and winning at home. And the Heat fans were definitely out in force this game, giving thunderous applause to the starters as they gradually left the game in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. They were indeed Miami’s “sixth man.”