MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The celebration for the Heat’s win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals sent fans into the streets at the American Airlines Arena but even as fans celebrate the 101-88 victory over the Celtics the Heat turn their attention to an even bigger nemesis in the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
James had 31 points and 12 rebounds, Chris Bosh hit a career-best three 3-pointers — the last sparking the run that put it away — and the Miami Heat won their second straight Eastern Conference title by beating the Boston Celtics 101-88 in Game 7 on Saturday night.
Miami opens the title series in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
Dwyane Wade scored and Shane Battier added 12 for the Heat, who won a Game 7 for the first time since 2004 — Wade’s rookie season.
Rajon Rondo finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for Boston, which got 19 points from Paul Pierce in what might be the last game of the “Big Four” era for the Celtics.
Boston took out its starters with 28.3 seconds left. By then, workers already had a rope around the perimeter of the court, preparing for the East trophy presentation.
Down by seven at the half and eight early in the third quarter, Miami started clawing back. An 8-0 run tied it at 59-all, capped by Wade hitting a jumper, and then the fun really started.
There were six lead changes and five more ties in the final 7 minutes of the third. Bosh scored with 29 seconds left for the last of those ties, and it was 73-all going into the fourth.
Six games decided nothing, and nothing was decided in Game 7 until the very last moments, neither team yielding much of anything. Battier’s 3-pointer with 8:06 left in the third cut Boston’s lead at the time to 59-57.
And back and forth they went.
For the next 13 minutes, a span of 46 dizzying, unbelievable possessions, neither team led by more than two points.
That finally changed when Bosh his third 3-pointer with 7:17 left. James made a runner on the next Miami trip, and suddenly the Heat had their biggest lead of the night to that point, 88-82 with 6:54 remaining.
They were on their way. Next stop, Oklahoma.
The game will match-up two teams built in different philosophies. The Heat was built through free agency when the Big Three came together in the summer of 2010. The Thunder constructed its team through the NBA Draft and through a few trades.
The NBA Finals matchup has been a dream matchup for fans all season long. The two teams met twice this season with each team walking away with a victory.
The Heat visited Oklahoma City on March 25 and were summarily beat 103-87. The Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade scored just 57 points combined in the late March game. The Thunder’s Kevin Durant scored 28 and was joined by Serge Ibaka and James Harden who each had 19.
In the return game, LeBron took control of the game and scored 34 points, pulled down 7 rebounds and handed out 10 assists in the game. The Heat had four players in double-figures that night including Bosh, Wade, and guard Mario Chalmers.
The Heat have averaged 92.5 points against the Thunder this year, while the Thunder have averaged 98 points against the Heat.
Breaking down the numbers, the Thunder have outrebounded the Heat in their matchups this season by more than six rebounds per game. The Thunder also hand out more assists than they average during the season when they play the Heat.
The Heat averaged 15.4 three-point shots against the NBA this season, but against the Thunder the Heat averaged 23 three-point shots per game. The Heat have struggled all season shooting the three and it continued through the postseason.
The Thunder will be more than happy to sit back in their defense against the Heat and force the team to shoot long-range shots. On the bright side for the Heat, they’re shooting 93 percent from the free throw line against the Thunder, which is 16 percent better than they did against the rest of the NBA.
The Thunder does much of their damage against the Miami Heat from the corner outside the three-point line. Oklahoma City shoots 67 percent from the corner against the Heat this season, which is 26 percent above their average against the rest of the league.
Oklahoma City has handled LeBron fairly well through the 2012 season. The Thunder hold the Heat’s rebounding edge below average when LeBron is on the court and overall, the Heat are a -5.9 against the Thunder with LeBron on the court.
Part of the difference for the Thunder is All-Star forward Kevin Durant. When LeBron heads to the bench and Durant is on the floor, the Thunder are +56 against the Heat in seven minutes of action this season. On the flip side, when Durant hits the bench, which he did for three minutes against the Heat this season, the Heat are -24.
Las Vegas oddsmakers and nearly every NBA pundit are making the Thunder heavy favorites to easily dispose of the Heat in the Finals.
But, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Heat have been buried before this offseason only to come storming back. This will be a much younger and more talented team than the Heat faced during last year’s NBA Finals.
The Heat will need LeBron to keep playing at his MVP level and will also need Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to come ready to leave it all on the floor if they expect to overcome the Thunder.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be held in Oklahoma City starting Tuesday at 9 p.m. The first home game for the Heat in the Finals will be Sunday, June 17.