The day began with LeBron James making a playoff analogy out of breakfast, his way of saying the Miami Heat were focused on the first postseason challenge presented by the Philadelphia 76ers and nothing else.
Clear the table.
”Now,” James said about 12 hours later, ”we’re preparing for lunch.”
So this much is obvious: There will be some hunger Sunday afternoon when Boston visits to open a series both teams wanted.
Dwyane Wade scored 26 points, Chris Bosh added 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals by topping Philadelphia 97-91 on Wednesday night and ousting the 76ers in five games, four of them of the grueling variety, perhaps none more nailbiting than the finale.
”We’re going to be ready,” Wade said. ”Philly got us ready.”
Mario Chalmers scored 20 points off the bench and James finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for Miami. Joel Anthony – who played 39 minutes without a single field-goal attempt – made a pair of critical free throws with 16.8 seconds left for the Heat.
Winners of a playoff series for the first time since the 2006 NBA finals, the Heat have little time to savor the winning flavor. Boston took three of four in the regular season, plus ended both Miami’s season and James’ stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2010 playoffs.
”We understand where we are in this league and where the Celtics are,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”They’ve proven themselves. They were the Eastern Conference champions last year. If we want to get to anywhere where we want to go, and the goals that we set for ourselves early in training camp, we have to go through them. And it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t play them.”
Boston punched its ticket to the second round on Sunday, and the Heat insisted they were not looking ahead to the Celtics.
Good thing, because Philadelphia was far from a pushover.
Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand each scored 22 points for Philadelphia, which got 13 from Thaddeus Young, 12 from Jodie Meeks and 10 from Jrue Holiday.
”We were proud to have these guys on our team,” said Brand, one of only two Philadelphia starters with postseason experience before this series. ”They listen, they work hard and they’re going to get better. Being vets … it can be tough kind of playing with young guys. But not these guys.”
Wade made a 3-pointer with 8:34 left, pumped his fist on his way up the sideline, and Miami was up 81-71.
The celebration was way, way, too early.
Philadelphia chipped away steadily, getting within two points on three occasions and – after Steve Javie called a technical against Wade for arguing with 51 seconds left – cut Miami’s lead to one point twice, first on the technical free throw at 90-89 and again at 92-91 after Iguodala made a jumper with 36 ticks remaining.
Those were the final points of Philadelphia’s season. The Sixers started 3-13, then got into the playoffs and wound up pushing Miami to the edge.
”We fought to the finish,” Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said, ”as we said we were going to do.”
James created a bit of a stir before the game – by, of all things, quoting rapper Jay-Z.
Asked after Miami’s morning shootaround practice about the need to finish Philadelphia off on Wednesday to allow time to finally start preparing for Boston, James said the Heat were focusing on, ”just finishing our breakfast,” the lyric Jay-Z used.
Collins shrugged it off as ”an analogy.” But some Sixers seemed to take offense at the comment – Lou Williams was giving teammates various breakfast-item nicknames before the game, saying some were fruit salad, others flapjacks.
Maybe it was no coincidence that James was nearly held to another breakfast food – a bagel, otherwise known as 0 points – in the first half. He had only three points at intermission, matching his playoff career low, and the stage was set for another down-to-the-wire night.
”That was a long buffet,” Brand said. ”We kept coming. We didn’t give up.”
Wade capped it with a dunk with a half-second left, as white seat covers got tossed around the arena triumphantly by the sellout crowd. Collins and Spoelstra shared a warm handshake moments later, most of the two rosters exchanged quick hugs, and then Miami retreated back to its locker room for a moment or two of celebration.
”Four out of five games, it came down to the last minute, down to the wire,” Sixers center Spencer Hawes said. ”It sounds cliche, but a couple bounces here and there you don’t know which way it can go.”
Collins said ”it’ll be interesting” to see what Spoelstra does in the next round when it comes to Miami’s lineup. Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas only played 4:27 apiece, benched the rest of the way after another slow start, and Chalmers and Anthony started the second half.
Collins also acknowledged being emotional in Philadelphia’s postgame locker room.
”I’ve enjoyed the ride all year,” said Collins, who insisted he plans to return if the Sixers want him.
Much of Miami’s emphasis on Tuesday and before the game Wednesday was on starting more quickly. Still, for the fourth time in five games, Philadelphia had Miami in a double-digit hole in the opening quarter.
The Sixers made nine of their first 11 shots, running out to leads of 16-5 and 20-10 – before, as was the case throughout the series, the first substitutions for Miami started paying dividends.
And in the end, Chalmers and Anthony played big roles.
”They kind of forgot about me,” Chalmers said. ”I made them pay.”
Notes: Philadelphia’s combined scoring margin over Miami’s starters to open games grew to 92-50 for the series, after a 14-4 start on Wednesday. … A pregame moment of silence was held to remember Jim Mandich, the Miami Dolphins player and broadcaster who died Tuesday night of complications from bile duct cancer. Mandich was close with several Heat officials, including Pat Riley. … James accepted April’s Player of the Month award in a brief halftime ceremony.