You knew when LeBron James hung those 49 points on the Nets on Monday night that the Heat was going to take Brooklyn to Miami and finish bringing the house down on their season.
And that’s exactly what James and the Heat did on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Arena as they defeated the Nets 96-94 in Game 5 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat will face the winner of the Pacers-Wizards series.
James and Dwayne Wade combined for 57 points to ransack the Nets and served notice on the remaining playoff teams that the Heat are just eight games away from a Three-peat. And it looks like they will get it.
Here are three reasons why Miami is heading for a third straight NBA championship on roller skates: Four years of chemistry with James, Wade and Chris Bosh; Wade is healthy going down the stretch; and James can do anything on the basketball court he wants.
“I have to make an imprint on the game both offensively and defensively to help us win,’’ James said.
Of course James, who had 29 points, figured in the final play, stripping the ball from Nets guard Joe Johnson in the waning seconds on the final play of the game. The Nets were up by eight points with under five minutes to play and James, who said he has gotten better at reading the game, knew that Brooklyn Coach Jason Kidd was going to keep giving the ball to Johnson, who scored 34 points, down the stretch to try to secure the win for the Nets.
“In the fourth quarter Joe gave me everything that I wanted. He was torturing me,’’ James said. “I looked at myself and said if I don’t get stops on Joe we’re going to lose the game. In order for us to put ourselves in a position to win I had to get some stops. I had to dig deep. I got the strip.’’
Wade, who scored 28 points, took over the game offensively in the first half, while James put the defensive clamps on in the second half.
“Coming off the last game with LeBron having 49, everybody was going to be aware of him,’’ Wade said. “I just took it upon myself to be aggressive knowing that it was going to open up some things.’’
Wade, James and Bosh have been together in Miami for four years and four straight years they’ve gone to the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s not a coincidence.
“To be in this position is what we had in mind four years ago,’’ Wade said.
“We have a lot more work to do. And we’re a team that doesn’t take it for granted that we’re here. We have to continue to do the things we do. We’re going to the Eastern Conference championship and then we move forward.’’
Wade and James said it was interesting seeing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in another intense playoff series this time wearing Nets jerseys. Both James and Wade have had their battles with Pierce and Garnett when they were with the Celtics.
Wade said it took years for the Heat to get past the Celtics in a playoff series, but it made him mentally strong. The Celtics prompted James to bring his talents to South Beach.
“When I was in Cleveland (the Celtics) was a hump I couldn’t get over. I knew from that point that I needed some help,’’ James said. “I knew that with those guys – Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo - and the chemistry that they had that I needed some help. I don’t know if they thought I’d seek help, but I did. Those guys challenged me and helped me become the person I am today…As weird as it is seeing them in (Nets) black and white you still see (Celtic) green on them.’’
James finally has that help he wanted in Cleveland, and their chemistry is pure dynamite.
Whoever comes out of the Western Conference does not have enough to contend with the Heat, especially the way that they’re playing right now. They are 8-1 in the two playoff series to reach the Eastern Conference finals and haven’t shown any signs of slowing down.