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James, Wade push Heat back to NBA Finals

The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- Hold off on trading Dwyane Wade.

Pump the brakes on dumping Chris Bosh.

Take your fingers off the panic button, Heat fans, because your team is headed to the NBA Finals for the third straight year.

LeBron James scored 32 points, and a rejuvenated Wade added 21 as the Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers 99-76 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat, who have not lost consecutive games since Jan. 10, rebounded from a dreadful Game 6 performance in Indianapolis, silencing their critics -- at least temporarily.

Miami advances to face its next test -- the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday night in South Florida.

Wade shook off a sore knee that has bothered him for most of the playoffs.

"In a Game 7, you've got to give everything you've got," he said. "My team and my coach did some things to loosen me up early, and I took it from there."

Wade snapped a streak of 12 straight games in which he failed to score at least 20 points -- the longest such drought since his rookie year. Wade, who averaged 21.2 points on 52.1 percent shooting in the regular season, had been held to 14.6 points per game and 44.2 percent shooting by the Pacers in the first six games of this series.

On Monday, he had nine rebounds, made seven of 16 shots from the field and hit all seven of his free throws.

A key factor in Wade's performance was James' decision to guard Paul George. Wade took on a lesser foe, Lance Stephenson.

"Wade taking that challenge against their best wing (George) in the first six games really helped LeBron," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "This last game, LeBron said: 'I got you. Let me take (George).'

"Sometimes, deep in a series, a subtle change like that can make a difference."

George shot 2-for-9 from the floor, finished with seven points and seven boards, and fouled out with 7:43 left in the game.

Bosh, the third member of Miami's so-called Big Three, had nine points (on 3-of-13 shooting) and eight rebounds.

Spoelstra said he liked what he saw from Bosh.

"Chris got good looks," Spoelstra said. "I liked how aggressive he was putting the ball on the floor. Defensively, wow, he played with great energy, and that motor was contagious for everyone."

Including the regular season, the Heat and Pacers split 10 games, but Miami won the one that counted the most.

The home court may have had something to do with that. Historically, the home team has won 80 percent of Game 7s, and those numbers held up Monday.

Heat fans can thank James, who made eight of 17 shots from the field and 15 of 16 foul shots.

In contrast, the entire Pacers team made just 14 free throws out of 20 attempts.

In addition to shutting down George, Miami did a good job defending Roy Hibbert. The Indiana center had 18 points, but just four in the first half when the Heat pulled away.

The Pacers, who have never won an NBA title, fell one win short of making the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history.

The Pacers qualified for the Finals in 2000, when an Indiana team led by Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose lost in six games to a Los Angeles Lakers squad that featured Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The key to Monday's game was the second quarter, when the Heat outscored Indiana 33-16. The Heat had a 15-point halftime lead and extended that advantage to 21 after three quarters, by which point the game was virtually over.

Another factor: Miami guard Ray Allen, a 28.3 percent shooter in the first six games of the series, made three of five shots in the second quarter, including three of four 3-point attempts. Allen finished the night with 10 points.

The Pacers led 21-19 after the first quarter, but it was an odd advantage given that Indiana had nine turnovers and 11 fewer field-goal attempts than Miami.

The Heat came out determined to get players other than James involved. Their first 11 shots were by the other four starters. And even though only three of those shots went in, and the Heat trailed 12-6 at the end of that stretch, James said he got what he wanted early.

"On the first play of the game, I called a play for D-Wade," James said. "I called a couple sets for him early in the game. Even if he didn't shoot, just to get him good touches ...

"He started to attack, to make layups. It was big-time."

Pacers forward David West said it was a matter of effort for Wade.

"That's probably the hardest he's played," said West, who scored 14 points. "He missed some shots and then went and got it. He beat us in the effort department and played harder than he had in the previous six games."

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he thought James' defense impacted George. He also said he expected Wade to be excellent because of the type of competitor he has been throughout his career.

However, Vogel also had praise for his team.

"Our guys are disappointed," he said. "We felt like we could have won this series. We wanted badly to win.

"But we're encouraged by the fact that we lost Danny Granger for the year and started 3-6 (before bouncing back). ... No one expected us to get here. Our intent is bring our entire core back and hopefully bring Granger back. I'm proud of this group."

NOTES: Heat F Chris "Birdman" Andersen, who served a one-game suspension in Game 6 for rough play, got a standing ovation Monday when he entered the game with one minute left in the first quarter. Andersen, who went 15-for-15 from the field and averaged 7.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in the first five games of the series, has become a fan favorite in Miami. ... Andersen, though, missed his first shot Monday on a tip-in try at the end of the first quarter. He ended the night 1-for-3 and scored seven points. ... Heat wing Mike Miller, who got little playing time in the first six games, was Miami's first sub Monday. He entered with three minutes left in the first. He wound up playing 17 scoreless minutes. ... Indiana G George Hill made just four of 14 shots and scored 13 points.
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