|(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)|
LeBron James and the Heat will be returning to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.
They will face Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Thanks to two great performances by MVP LeBron James, the Miami Heat will be returning to the NBA Finals. Despite being down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics, the Heat rallied to win two big games, Game 6 in Boston and then Game 7 in Miami in order to make it back to the title series.
James and the Heat won Game 6 with ease, defeating the Celtics 98-79. Just when he needed to quiet the critics, LeBron had one of the most spectacular games in NBA playoffs history. In fact, he became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to score 45 points and grab at least 15 rebounds in a playoff game.
From the opening tip, James dominated the game, scoring 14 points on 6-7 shooting in the first quarter. But it didn't stop there for James. He made 12 of his first 13 shots, putting the Heat up 55-42 at the end of the first half. With Dwyane Wade not playing his best basketball, and Chris Bosh playing with limited minutes it was crucial that James stepped up
The current MVP was going to make sure that if the Heat went down, it wouldn't be because of him. Not only did James have a prolific night on the offensive end, but he shut down the Celtics on offense. Guarding multiple positions all night, James helped the Heat limit the Celtics' Big Three to just 33% shooting. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen combined for 31 points, the lowest of any playoff game they've all played in together.
While Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to shoot 8-25 from the field, James shot over 70%. With the Celtics trying to make several runs early in the second half, the Heat weren't giving into anything. Every time the Celtics would come close to getting back in the game, James would silence them with a basket.
Despite James' historic night, it wasn't enough to turn his reputation around. Critics were still saying that if the Heat didn't win Game 7, then they would need to make major offseason moves, which could have possibly included breaking up their Big Three.
James and the Heat didn't get off to the hot start they wanted to in Game 7. James shot the ball just four times in the first quarter, and the Heat found themselves down four at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was composed of many runs from both teams. Every time the Heat would tie up the game, the Celtics would go on a run of their own and push the lead to double-digits.
While the Heat were weren't shooting great in the first half, the Celtics were hitting everything. Even Brandon Bass was contributing for the Celtics, scoring 10 points in a span of four minutes in which the Celtics out scored the Heat 14-3.
The Heat came out red hot in the second half though, and by the time the game entered the fourth quarter, it was tied up at 73. Chris Bosh had his best game of the postseason, scoring 18 points on 8-10 shooting. Bosh also hit three clutch three pointers that gave the Heat leads. In addition to his 18 points, he grabbed eight rebounds in just 31 minutes of play.
As Bosh was heating up in the second half, LeBron's game improved as well. He started driving to the basket more, and was either making layups or getting fouled on every possession.
Regardless of how well the Heat played in the third quarter, Boston wouldn't go away. There were over seven lead changes in the third quarter, and once the Heat tied it up, neither team led by more than two points for the rest of the quarter.
The Heat would eventually pull away in the fourth quarter. Thanks to another three pointer by Bosh, and a 30 foot three pointer from James, the Heat got themselves a comfortable lead early in the fourth.
By the time there were under five minutes to play, the Heat were up by nearly ten points, and Boston's season looked finished. When the final buzzer sounded, it was 101-88 Miami.
LeBron finished the game with 31 points and 12 rebounds. Wade had arguably the best game of the series, finishing with 23 points, six rebounds, and six assists.
The Heat will now play the Thunder, with Game 1 kicking off tonight.
Despite making their second trip to the NBA Finals in as many years, the Heat are still underdogs by most standards. The Thunder are playing fantastic basketball, coming off a six game series with the Spurs. After dropping the first two games in San Antonio, the Thunder rallied back to win four straight games and send Tim Duncan and Co. home.
Here's my NBA Finals Prediction:
Despite how temping it is to take them in five, I'll take the Miami Heat in Six. Here's why.
LeBron James is deservingly playing like the best player on the planet. It has been said that when it comes down to such a close matchup like this, the team with the best player wins. That being said, if Durant outplays LeBron, it's a no-brainer that the Thunder will win the title.
But LeBron isn't going to be outplayed by anyone. If you haven't noticed, or you've lived under a rock since last June, LeBron can't stand the fact that he played so poorly last year against the Mavs. He's been quoted saying that he's going to have no regrets in the finals, and go all out.
With that being said, LeBron is going to put up the series of his career, and quiet the haters one more time, at least for now. He may not get to the six and seven rings he promised, but I'll promise he brings one home this year. It's his ninth year in the league, and his third trip to the NBA Finals. He knows exactly what he has to do, and will deliver.
The only man standing in his way is Kevin Durant. In my opinion, both players have very close skill sets, and it will come down to LeBron's physical strengths. I think it will be too difficult for Durant to stop James on the drive, since he is too strong for Durant.
LeBron isn't going to be the only one who steps up for the Heat. Dwyane Wade is going to need to play much better than he did against the Celtics and Pacers if the Heat want to win it all. Chris Bosh has been playing great in the minutes he has gotten, but will need to provide some offense down-low for Miami. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are going to make it tough for Bosh, so he needs to make sure he can score on them.
In the end though, it all comes down to the James vs. Durant matchup. Whoever outplays the other will come home with the ring. Some thing it will be Durant and the Thunder winning this matchup, but I've got LeBron and the Heat. I just don't think he can live with himself knowing that he has gotten this far just to lose again.