Heat 99, Pacers 76

Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- LeBron James scored 32 points, and a rejuvenated Dwyane 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. It will be the third straight trip to the Finals for the defending champion Heat.
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.
Wade was another big factor. He 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.
Chris Bosh, the third member of Miami's so-called Big Three, had nine points (on 3-of-13 shooting) and eight rebounds.
James made eight of 17 shots from the field, 15 of 16 foul shots.
Miami did a good job defending Pacers stars Roy Hibbert and Paul George. Hibbert had 18 points but just four in the first half when the Heat pulled away. George made two of nine shots and finished with seven points and seven boards, fouling out with 7:43 left in the game.
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 Heat outscored the Pacers by six points in the third quarter to take a 76-55 lead, but the bigger development in the period came when Pacers stars Hibbert (with 2:09 left) and George (1.9 seconds left) were each charged with their fifth fouls.
The Pacers missed their last nine shots of the third quarter and had no field goals in the final four minutes.
The Heat led 52-37 at halftime, outscoring Indiana by 17 points in the second quarter. James had 18 points in the half.
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.
Another change came on the boards. Indiana outrebounded Miami by 20 in Game 6. In the first half of Game 7, Miami had a 22-18 edge, including a 9-2 advantage on the offensive glass.
Miami was also plus-10 on turnovers and plus-10 on paint points in the half.
Hibbert, who averaged 23 points in the first six games, had just four points in the first half Monday. He was also charged with three fouls.
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, but only three of those shots went in. Wade was 2-for-4 in the opening quarter, and Bosh was 1-for-4.
The Heat called timeout when they trailed 12-6. James got to the foul line on the next possession, starting Miami on a 9-2 run.
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.

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