The series comeback complete, LeBron James turned to Dwyane Wade and gave his teammate a hug. Around them an arena shook with excitement but their faces bared no emotion.
For them, there was nothing to celebrate. There was only more focus.
The Heat defeated the Celtics 101-88 on Saturday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. After trailing Boston 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, Miami won two consecutive games to earn its second East championship in a row.
Now its onto Oklahoma City and the NBA Finals where the Heat hopes to silence the ghosts from last years collapse to the Dallas Mavericks.
It has been a journey, LeBron James said.
The Heat/Thunder series begins on Tuesday in Oklahoma City where Game 1 and 2 will be played; tickets for Games 3 and 4 back in Miami go on sale at noon Sunday at Heat.com and Ticketmaster.
In the end Saturday night, the AmericanAirlines Arena was on its feet and buzzing with the energy of a final series game fitting of its pressure-packed, do-or-die scenario. James played every minute of the game, finishing with 31 points, 12 rebounds and two assists. Dwyane Wade had 23 points, six assists and six rebounds.
You play to get back to this moment to, in a sense, redeem yourself, Wade said.
Chris Bosh, who missed nine straight games after injuring an abdominal muscle in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, announced his full return to health with an emphatic 19 points. He was 3 of 4 from three-point range. Boshs three three-pointers set a career high for a game.
I know it will surprise a lot of other people, but Ive been practicing those things all year, Bosh said. We kind of knew in big-time situations that they were going to be open and Id shoot it without hesitation.
The Heats role players delivered as well. Shane Battier delivered 12 points on four three-pointers. Mario Chalmers had nine points and seven assists. Udonis Haslem had seven points and six rebounds. The Heat out-rebounded Boston 38-33 and overcame 10 turnovers in the first half by committing just three in the final two quarters.
The final game of the series was etched from the same DNA as the entire back-and-forth affair. For one maddening stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters nine minutes and 46 seconds to be exact the lead changed hands 14 times. For 46 consecutive possessions, neither team led by more than two points.
I guess thats what a seven-game Eastern Conference finals series is supposed to be about, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. It was good to see us come together in a very competitive series.
Fans cheered respectfully as the Celtics starters checked out of the game with 28.3 seconds left, conceding victory. It was perhaps the final game for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in Celtics green. If so, it was a memorable conclusion to an amazing run. Paul Pierce gave the Celtics 19 points on 7 of 18 shooting. Garnett had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Its been a privilege, said Allen, who finished with 15 points and was 3 of 8 from three-point range.
Rajon Rondo led Boston with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds, yet another playoff triple-double for the point guard.
We let this one slip away, Rondo said. They made the 50-50 plays and got to loose balls.