Heat Return to NBA Finals With 23-Point Rout of Pacers in Game 7

LeBron James and the Miami Heat are back in the National Basketball Association Finals for the third year in a row after routing the Indiana Pacers 99-76 in a decisive Game 7 to win the Eastern Conference title.

James had 32 points and eight rebounds last night for the defending-champion Heat, who outscored the Pacers 33-16 during the second quarter to open a 15-point halftime lead at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.

“We weren’t going to win with just LeBron being amazing,” Dwyane Wade, whose 21 points were his most in the series, told reporters. “We needed timely scorers and early on I thought everyone was involved in the ballgame.”

Miami led by as many as 28 points in the second half in advancing to face the San Antonio Spurs in the best-of-seven NBA Finals beginning June 6 in Miami. The Spurs have been off since May 27, when they completed a four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals.

The Heat are 5.5-point favorites in Game 1, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. Miami has a 70 percent chance to successfully defend its title based on oddsmakers’ betting lines, Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com said.

“I’m definitely going to savor this win,” James said at a news conference. “Tomorrow I’ll start to get back into the books and film on a team that’s very good, very disciplined and well coached. They’ve got a bunch of Hall of Famers. So I look forward to the challenge.”

Seventh Game

This is the second straight year the Heat have won a Game 7 at home to advance to the NBA’s championship round. Miami last season beat the Boston Celtics 101-88 in a decisive seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals and went on to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.

The Heat two years ago lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA’s championship series.

The Heat last night trailed 23-19 less than one minute into the second quarter before Ray Allen came off the bench to spark the home team. James scored 12 points in the quarter for Miami while Allen hit three 3-pointers and netted 10 points in a span of less than seven minutes.

Miami took a 52-37 lead into halftime and continued to stretch its advantage in the second half as Wade matched his highest scoring game of the postseason. The Heat held a 43-36 rebounding advantage, forced 21 Indiana turnovers and shot 87 percent from the free-throw line, making 33 of 38 foul shots.

“They taught us a lesson,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said at a news conference. “They’ve won it all and they know how to ratchet up their defense at a level that just imposes their will on a basketball game. Our guys didn’t handle it well in the first half. You have to give them credit.”

‘Battle Tested’

Roy Hibbert had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Pacers, while David West added 14 points and George Hill scored 13.

“Those guys have been battle tested,” Hibbert said of the Heat. “Their guys were making the right plays and making game-winning plays because they’ve been through it before.”

Miami never trailed in the series, as Indiana rallied for wins three times after losses in games 1, 3 and 5. The Heat, who had the best record in the NBA during the regular season at 66-16, haven’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 8 and 10.

“The competition brought out the best in us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

It was the second of 14 series that’s gone to seven games this postseason. The only other one was the Chicago Bulls’ win against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.

“I dreamed about opportunities like this as a kid -- to have a Game 7, no matter at home or on the road, and that game allows you to advance to the Finals,” James said. “To see a dream become a reality, I’m just very blessed. Our team is blessed. We’re happy that we are able to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals.”

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