The Miami Heat didn't take any risks in a win-or-go-home Game 7, blowing the doors off the Indiana Pacers in a 99-76 rout to win the Eastern Conference Finals, 4-3. LeBron James had 32 points and finally got help from Dwyane Wade, who scored 21 points to help send the Big 3 to their third NBA Finals in as many seasons.
Miami forced 15 first-half turnovers and won the battle on the offensive glass, outrebounding Indiana, 43-36, after losing the same battle by 20 in Game 6. After some struggles early, the Heat opened up a 15-point lead at the halftime break. Miami would led by 20 for the vast majority of the second half.
James looked the part of the world's best player, scoring his 32 points on just 17 shots. He got to the line effortlessly, taking 16 free throws -- hitting 15 -- and forcing Paul George to foul out while Roy Hibbert spent most of the second half in foul trouble.
It was a dismal ending for a Pacers squad that had pushed Miami further than anyone had expected. George had just seven points on nine attempts after dueling James earlier in the series. Hibbert, who has proven himself as one of the league's elite defensive players, couldn't avoid fouling at the rim and didn't get touches early. David West went just 6-for-15, ending up with only 14 points.
Miami was aggressive defensively without being predictable. High hedges on ballhandlers and quick double teams on post players led to confused Indiana players, and those confused Indiana players gave the ball up a lot. The Pacers turned the ball over 21 times in any number of ways: 24-second violations, poor passes, handsy plays by double-teamers and more. The hyper-athletic Heat capitalized in transition with slams by Wade and James and a momentum-killing Ray Allen three.
The Heat didn't look up to the task in the first quarter. LeBron James wasn't really involved in the offense, Chris Bosh missed seven of eight attempts, and the Heat finished without a field goal or an assist in the period. But turnovers (nine by Indiana) and offensive rebounds (six by Miami) kept the Heat within two points.
Then James got tired of waiting around. He heated up, while his team took advantage of Indiana turnovers and Allen looked like Ray Allen instead of the guy who has been playing for the Heat so far this series. Allen drilled three threes and finish with 10 points in a quick bench spurt. James managed 18 points in the first half, and the Heat turned the deficit into a 15-point lead.
That second quarter would be decisive. The Pacers wouldn't show any signs of life in the third quarter, missing their last nine field goals of the period over a stretch of 4:26 as Miami's lead was pushed to 21 points. The Pacers never threatened in the fourth, with their deficit growing to as much as 28.
Satchel Price asked three questions about Game 7. Here are some answers:
1. Will Bosh and Dwyane Wade disappoint again?
Most certainly not, in Wade's case. James' sidekick played by far his best game of the series. Many had questioned whether or not the once-dynamic wing could be a factor as he dealt with a balky knee. He had averaged just 14.5 points on inefficient shooting in the series, looking listless in Game 6 while James seemed like he'd be forced to carry the team all by himself. In Game 7, he didn't look like a former Finals MVP or nine-time All-Star, but he certainly looked like a player worthy of being James' second man.
He finished some pretty drives to the lane and slammed down a transition dunk off an Indiana turnover, things he didn't look healthy or clever enough to do as he struggled earlier in the series. But arguably most impressive was Wade's effort on the offensive glass. He led Miami with nine rebounds, six offensive, helping pile on second-chance efforts in the third quarter.
Bosh only had nine points on 13 shots and seemed intent on shooting the team out of the game, but it didn't particularly matter.
2. Can Miami's shooting touch return?
This wasn't really a big issue, as Miami grabbed a lot of their misses. But Ray Allen's strong shooting is a great sign going forward: he ended up 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, more along the lines of what the Heat expected from one of the best shooters in NBA history when they signed him this offseason.
3. Will Birdman's return change rebounding battle?
Everybody on the team chipped in, not just Birdman. Chris Andersen did look OK in his minutes, but every starter for the Heat nabbed at least two offensive boards. Although nobody got double-figure rebounds, the Heat comfortably won the rebounding battle.