MIAMI, (Reuters) – An inspired LeBron James delivered the decisive blow with the last 10 points as the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics 97-87 on Wednesday to book their place in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics were expected to represent a major hurdle for the Heat but it was one they cleared with relative ease, winning the best-of-seven series 4-1.
Miami will now sit back and await the winner between Chicago and Atlanta, with the Bulls holding a 3-2 lead in the series.
In the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder pounded the Memphis Grizzlies 99-72 to seize control of their series 3-2.
After a tight opening quarter that ended 17-17, the Thunder ran away from Memphis leading 46-35 at the half and building a 19-point advantage after three quarters that the Grizzlies could not claw back.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 19 points while Daequan Cook had 18 off the bench. Marc Gasol had 15 for the Grizzlies, who will host Game Six on Friday.
Facing elimination, the Celtics battled hard from the tip-off but in the final quarter they had no answer to the Heat’s ‘Big Three’ of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
After Bosh had tied the game at 87-87 with a thundering dunk, James put his stamp on the contest by dropping two three-pointers from the arc.
The twice NBA MVP then added a dunk on a Boston turnover and a layup that touched off wild celebrations at the American Airlines Arena.
“I want to give a lot of credit to the Boston Celtics, that coaching staff and those players, they make you fight for everything,” James told reporters.
“You can never take your foot off the gas, you can never take a second off against that team so I have a lot of respect for that team.”
Wade paced the Heat with a game-high 34 points and 10 rebounds. James had 33 points added Bosh with 14 as the Big Three once again led the charge, collecting 81 of their team’s 97 points.
The Celtics, who held a slim lead through much of the game, were led by 18 points from Ray Allen. Kevin Garnett had 12 points in the opening quarter but was nearly invisible the rest of the game, finishing with 15.
Rajon Rondo, who dislocated his elbow in Game Three, was back on court with a heavily padded left arm but was limited to six points.
The win moved James, Wade and Bosh a big step closer to the NBA title they targeted when they came together in Miami.
“I got the utmost respect for that team,” James said.
“They (Celtics) are the reason why all three of us came together, because of what they did, that blueprint they had in ‘08 when they all came together.
“It’s a great team win, now we get ready for our next opponent.”
The Celtics got off to a flying start, Garnett dropping 12 points and pulling down five rebounds to stake Boston to a 24-16 lead.
But Wade took the spotlight in the second, finishing the half with 23 points and helping trim the deficit to 49-47 heading into the intermission.
Boston clung to their two-point lead in the third, and padded it to 81-74 early in the fourth quarter but could not hold on as the Heat finished with a 16-0 run to seal the series.