Heat, Celtics square off in Game 7 for East crown

LeBron and a Game 7.

It doesn't get much bigger than that on the NBA landscape and it will take place on Saturday in South Florida when the Miami Heat host the Boston Celtics in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals.

The winner of tonight's contest will move on to the NBA Finals and a date with Kevin Durant and the Thunder, starting June 12 in Oklahoma City.

LeBron James, of course, is fresh off his brilliant 45-point, 15-rebound, five-assist performance as the Heat staved off elimination with a 98-79 win in Game 6.

It's hard to imagine James duplicating his performance from Game 6 but did offer up one vow that might have sent chills up the collective spines of the Celtics.

"I won't regret Game 7," the superstar said. "Win, lose or draw, I'm going to go in with the mindset like I've had this whole season."

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra thinks both clubs will be ready but is happy his has home-court advantage.

"We feel good that we earned the right to play Game 7 at home," Spoelstra said at Saturday morning's shootaround. "The guys are looking forward to playing in front of our fans."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers, meanwhile, knows all the tricks of the trade and told his team to pack for a weeklong trip, anticipating a trek to OKC for The Finals.

"We have another opportunity," Rivers said. "We get to play another game, Game 7. I would say most of the people in this room would have said, 'Wow, they're going to get to Game 7, we'll take it.' That's the way we have to view it."

With Miami facing elimination on Thursday, a stone-faced James carried the load. The three-time MVP shot a sensational 19-of-26 from the field and never saw the bench until Spoelstra decided a 22-point lead with a little over three minutes remaining was enough breathing room to give his superstar a rest.

"He was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious," Spoelstra said of James. "He is arguably the most skilled player in this league and he was able to showcase a lot of that tonight. We needed every bit of it."

Dwyane Wade chipped in 17 points and eight boards for Miami, which had lost three straight in the series after taking the first two meetings. Chris Bosh, in just his second game back since returning from a strained abdominal muscle, played a little over 28 minutes and logged seven points, six rebounds and three blocks.

The Celtics shot just 1-of-14 from three-point range, and their leading scorer, Paul Pierce, was held to nine points on a porous 4-of-18 performance from the field.

Rajon Rondo scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half and added 10 assists, while Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett each netted 12 points in the one-sided setback.

James started his onslaught after the midway point of the first quarter when he capped a 10-0 run with a three-point play and three-pointer on consecutive possessions. The burst put the Heat in front, 22-12.

"I was aggressive from the opening tip. I went out and played as hard as I could," James said. "I just tried to make plays and give our team a chance to win, and I think I did that tonight."

Miami led 26-16 after the opening frame, and James mirrored his first 12 minutes with a 6-for-7 shooting effort in the second. The league MVP scored in a variety of ways in his 16-point outburst, hitting mid-range jumpers, finishing off low-post moves and adding a signature putback dunk late in the quarter.

Two Wade free throws gave the visitors a 55-42 cushion at the break, and it was a double-digit game the entire second half.

James missed more shots from the foul line (four) than he did from the field (two) in the first half. He went 5-of-9 from the stripe and 12-of-14 from the field.

"[James] was absolutely sensational. He made every shot and set the tone for their team," admitted Rivers. "He made a lot of tough [shots], but I still don't think we guarded him with enough force."

In the closing minutes of the third, the Celtics had several opportunities to pull within single digits, but Pierce misfired badly on an open three-pointer and Garnett was off the mark on an alley-oop.

James fittingly followed up the misses with a jumper, giving the visitors a 74-61 advantage heading to the fourth. Wade scored on Miami's first two possessions of the final frame and netted four more points during an 8-0 run a little later that essentially put the game away.

Tonight's contest will be the 111th Game 7 in NBA history with home teams owning an 88-22 advantage. No franchise has played in more Game 7s than Boston, which is an impressive 21-7 all-time. The Heat, on the other hand, are 2-3 all-time in Game 7s and dropped the last Game 7 in the East finals, an 88-82 setback to Detroit in 2005.

This is the third straight season that the Heat and Celtics are meeting in the playoffs. Boston won in five games in 2010 in the first round and the Heat won in five last year in the semifinals.