MIAMI — What happened: As they often have done over the past two seasons, the Miami Heat made it very interesting.
As they always have done in such situations, they won.
The Heat trailed in their last three series last year en route to the NBA title and they were forced to a Game 7 in these Eastern Conference finals.
But the Heat broke open the game in the second quarter Monday night to defeat the Indiana Pacers resoundingly 99-76 at AmericanAirlines Arena and claim their third straight East crown. Next up is San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, which start Thursday in Miami.
Forward LeBron James led the Heat with 32 points and guard Dwyane Wade added 21 points and nine rebounds. Miami also got eight rebounds from Chris Bosh, more than he’s had in any of the previous eight games.
Wade and Bosh had been much maligned for their recent struggles. But both stepped up Monday.
The Heat trailed 21-19 after the first quarter. But they outscored the Pacers 33-16 in the second quarter to take a 52-37 halftime lead.
Center Roy Hibbert led the Pacers with 18 points and eight rebounds. But his numbers were under the 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds he had averaged in the first six games.
The turning point: Many Miami fans were nervous when the Heat trailed by as many as six points in the first quarter.
The deficit was 21-19 at the end of the quarter and then became 23-19. But the Heat ended up outscoring the Pacers 33-16 in the second quarter to take a 52-37 halftime lead.
James led the way with 12 points in the quarter. He had broken open Game 5 at Miami with 16 points in the third quarter as Miami had taken a 3-2 series lead.
The difference maker: James always steps up in Game 7s. He’s now averaging 33.8 points in four such career games.
James, though, didn’t need to do as much scoring as many thought he might. That’s because Wade and guard Ray Allen, who both had been struggling offensively, reached double figures. Allen scored 10, making three 3-pointers in the first half.
As usual, James played a solid all-around game. He also had eight rebounds and four assists.
What it means: The Heat are going to the Finals for the third straight year and the fourth time in franchise history. They beat Dallas in 2006, lost to the Mavericks in 2011 and defeated Oklahoma City last year.
For the first time in their five Finals trips, San Antonio won’t have homecourt advantage. The Spurs and Heat split two meetings during the season but the games showed very little.
The Spurs sent starters Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green home to rest before a Nov. 29 game at Miami and the team was fined $250,000. The Heat, though, barely won 105-100.
Miami then sat James, Wade and Mario Chalmers out of a March 31 game at San Antonio. The Heat won 88-86 in surprising fashion. They weren’t fined because the players were at the arena and had announced injuries.
What’s next: Game 1 of the NBA Finals is at 9 p.m. Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena.