The Miami Heat have earned a return trip to the NBA Finals. They lost a home game and struggled in the first half of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals en route to a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Big Three all came up big in the fourth quarter, guiding the Heat to a 101-88 win over the Boston Celtics.
Miami was outplayed throughout the majority of the first half, even though foul trouble limited the minutes of Kevin Garnett, but they stormed back in the second half. They outscored the Celtics 27-20 in the third quarter, then put together a dominant fourth quarter, outscoring the Celtics by an even wider margin of 28-15 en route to their double-digit win.
LeBron James put together a second consecutive great performance with 31 points and 12 rebounds, with three of them coming on a huge 30-foot shot midway through the fourth quarter that seemed to permanently shift the momentum in the direction of the Heat. He was also very good defensively, and was a big part of the reason why Paul Pierce put together an average 19-point performance.
For the second time in the series, Rajon Rondo put in an absolutely stellar performance in a losing effort. He finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds, and in the process became the first player in history to post two triple-doubles in Game 7s.
Chris Bosh started the game on the bench once again, but was not a bit part contributor in Game 7. After James, he was Miami's next best performer, shooting 8-10 from the floor and 3-4 from behind the arc in a 19 point, eight rebound performance. Dwyane Wade was effective offensively as well, kicking in 23 points.
With the game slipping away late in the fourth quarter, Doc Rivers opted to give a curtain call to Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen. This was likely the last game of the five-year run that Boston's aging Big Three had together, as both Allen and Garnett become unrestricted free agents this summer. They exceeded expectations by pushing the Heat to a Game 7, especially considering the injuries to their top young role players at various points in the season, but Rivers and his veteran players will probably see the 2012 NBA Playoffs as more of a missed opportunity than a great run.
The Heat will now travel to Oklahoma City, where the Thunder await them. Game 1 of the NBA Finals is on Tuesday.
For more updates on Game 7, stick with this StoryStream. For more on the Heat, head over to Peninsula Is Mightier and SB Nation Tampa Bay. For more on the Celtics, check out CelticsBlog and SB Nation Boston.