A collective state of euphoria and power danced through the building like an electric current jumping across the night sky.
They call that heat lightning in Miami. On Monday, it was everywhere and all-consuming.
The Heat electrified the crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena and the city at large with a 99-76 blowout of the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. It took 13 days for the Heat to dispatch the Pacers, and for six games Indiana was a worthy adversary, but in the end, the youngsters didn’t belong on the same court as the Heat, which has now defeated Indiana in the postseason in back-to-back years.
Unlike the series, the final game was never close. The Heat led by 21 points entering the fourth quarter and dominated the game from start to finish. LeBron James led the Heat with 32 points, and Miami outrebounded Indiana for the first time in the series.
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“We had to play our best game of the series to get this one done,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Heat now shifts its focus immediately to the venerable San Antonio Spurs, which swept the Memphis Grizzlies in four games to win the Western Conference finals. The Spurs have had nine days to rest between series. The Finals begin Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Game 2 is Sunday in Miami before the series shifts to Texas for three games.
The Heat has now defeated the Bulls, Celtics and Pacers in back-to-back-to-back Eastern Conference finals. It was Miami’s fourth conference championship in its 25-year history. All have come since 2006.
From the beginning, the Heat overwhelmed the Pacers with a frenetic energy it lacked for most of the series. Miami forced 15 turnovers in the first half and had nine offensive rebounds, which was one shy of tying the franchise record for rebounds in the first half of a playoff game. The Heat finished with 15 offensive rebounds and won the overall battle of the boards 43-36.
“Too much to overcome,” said Pacers forward David West, who had 14 points, six rebounds and six turnovers.
For Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade, Game 7 was a reminder that he can still dominate a game from the perimeter. He finished with 21 points after averaging less than 15 points per game in the series. Wade was 7 of 16 from the field to go along with nine rebounds, including six on the offensive glass.
“I got a lot of opportunities [Monday] and physically I did everything I could,” Wade said. “I thought we came out with the right mentality and put everything behind us and focused on this game.”
After Game 6, Wade voiced concerns that he was being given enough opportunities in the series to affect games. In the first quarter of Game 7, James found his teammate early.
“I called a play for Dwyane on the first play of the game,” James said. “He got in his rhythm and it was big time.”
Wade ripped down his fifth offensive rebound of the game with 5:24 to play in the third quarter and went up strong to create a three-point play opportunity. Wade made his and-one free-throw attempt to give the Heat a 64-49 lead. The Heat cruised from there with the arena’s 20,000-plus fans serenading its players with chants and cheers.
James checked out of the game with 5:08 to play after going 8 of 17 from the field, 1 of 2 from three-point range 15 of 16 from the free-throw line. He had more makes from the free-throw line than the Pacers had as a team (14). James also had eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and block to go along with his aggressive offensive game.
“Getting to the free-throw line, that’s how you control tempo,” James said.
Said Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “They were just aggressive. They had that killer instinct in their eyes like they weren’t going to be denied.”
James’ head nearly touched the rim on an alley-oop dunk from reserve point guard Norris Cole with 8:25 left in the second quarter. The dramatic field goal put the Heat ahead 33-27. Miami increased its lead to 52-40 at halftime.
From the beginning of the second quarter to the end of the third, the Heat outscored the Pacers 57-34.
It was the first Game 7 scenario for Pacers players Paul George and Roy Hibbert and it showed. George, the budding star, fouled out with 7:43 let in the game. He finished with seven points.
Wade was the Heat’s primary defender for George for most of the series, but James switched off on the Pacers’ best player for Game 7. It was a key tactic, which limited George while allowing Wade to focus on his offense.
“Any little pressure I could take off D-Wade, I wanted to do that,” James said.
Hibbert, the 7-2 center, spent most of the game in foul trouble as well, which limited his effectiveness on the defensive end. Hibbert led the Pacers with 18 points and Indiana shot 40.6 percent from the field. The Heat shot 39.5 percent from the field but outworked the Pacers on defense.
Hibbert picked up his fifth foul of the game when he clumsily crashed into Chris Bosh under the basket with 2:09 to play. But the game was long over by then. Bosh finished with nine points and eight rebounds.
“They’ve been through it before,” Hibbert said. “They were making the right plays and making game-winning plays because they’ve been through it before.”
Ray Allen led the Heat’s bench with 10 points, going 3 of 5 from three-point range. Allen was averaging less than seven points per game in the series before Game 7, but his timely shots demoralized the Pacers in the second quarter. Chris Andersen returned after being suspended for Game 6 and delivered a spark in the second period. He finished with seven points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.