Celtics face uncertainty after Game 7 loss to Heat
Doc Rivers had tears in his eyes. Rajon Rondo insisted more could have been done, even after he put up another triple-double. Ray Allen said he has years left in his legs.
The season is over for the Boston Celtics.
Only time will tell if this run of Celtics basketball is over as well.
LeBron James had 31 points and 12 rebounds, Chris Bosh hit a career-best three 3-pointers - the last sparking the run that put it away - and the Miami Heat won their second straight Eastern Conference title by beating the Celtics 101-88 in Game 7 on Saturday night.
So one ''Big Three'' - the one from Miami - is headed to an NBA finals matchup with Oklahoma City.
The other ''Big Three'' - the one from Boston, where it's technically been a ''Big Four'' - is headed into an offseason of uncertainty.
''It's tough. Everything's going so fast right now to think about it,'' Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. ''I'm more disappointed about the loss. It's tough to think about it, especially when you didn't accomplish your goal to win the championship. There are a lot of emotions right now.''
Miami opens the title series in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. The Heat got there by outscoring Boston 28-15 in the fourth quarter, with the ''Big Three'' of Wade, Bosh and James scoring every Miami point.
''We decided to come together and play together for a reason,'' Wade said.
Wade scored 23 points, Bosh finished with 19 and Shane Battier added 12 for the Heat.
Rondo finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for Boston, which got 19 points from Pierce in what might be the last game of the ''Big Four'' era for the Celtics. Boston took out its starters with 28.3 seconds left. By then, workers already had a rope around the perimeter of the court, preparing for the East trophy presentation.
''Give them credit,'' Rondo said. ''They spread the points out as a team tonight. Give them credit. They played great tonight as a team and we just came up short.''
James and Rivers - who teared up often postgame - shared a long embrace when it was all over. Before coming to Miami for Game 7, Rivers had packed for Oklahoma City, a trip he won't make, set to now spend his time seeing if James can win that first title.
''I told him to go do it,'' Rivers said.
Boston battled injuries all season, all the way to the end. Allen said he'll need surgery soon to repair bone chips in his right ankle. Pierce has been playing through a sprained knee ligament.
It all hurt. Nothing hurt more than the final buzzer Saturday night.
''It's probably the worst feeling that we feel, in our lives, in our careers,'' Allen said. ''There's nothing you can do about it. There's one team that wins that last game. We want to be that team every year. We've been through a lot. We've won a lot of games. At the end of every season, it always feels like it's it.
''This one hit me hard,'' Allen continued. ''We wanted it so bad.''
Down by seven at the half and eight early in the third quarter, Miami started clawing back. An 8-0 run tied it at 59-all, capped by Wade hitting a jumper, and then the fun really started. There were six lead changes and five more ties in the final 7 minutes of the third. Bosh scored with 29 seconds left for the last of those ties, and it was 73-all going into the fourth.
Six games decided nothing, and nothing was decided in Game 7 until the very last moments, neither team yielding much of anything. Battier's 3-pointer with 8:06 left in the third cut Boston's lead at the time to 59-57.
And back and forth they went.
For the next 13 minutes, a span of 46 dizzying, unbelievable possessions, neither team led by more than two points.
That finally changed when Bosh his third 3-pointer with 7:17 left. James made a runner on the next Miami trip, and suddenly the Heat had their biggest lead of the night to that point, 88-82 with 6:54 remaining.
They were on their way.
''He was big time - every shot, every defensive play, every rebound - we missed him,'' James said of Bosh. ''We're just happy to have him back at the right time. If it wasn't for him and the rest of the guys that stepped up, we don't win this game.''
Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: ''Our most important player.''
James made a 3-pointer - it went into the books as a 30-footer, as he leaped from atop one of the Eastern Conference finals stickers on the floor - as the shot clock was expiring with just under 6 minutes left, making it 91-84.
''Backbreaker,'' Rivers said.
Even mistakes were going Miami's way, as James lost a behind-the-back dribble, only to have the ball skip right into Battier's hands.
Bosh scored from inside the lane to end that possession. Wade scored on the next one, the lead was 95-86 with 3:23 left, Boston called time and the building was simply rocking. James did plenty of talking on the Heat bench in that stoppage, clearly saying the word ''Finish'' at one point.
They listened. A three-point play by Wade with 2:53 left all but sealed it, the Heat were up 12, and Oklahoma City beckoned.
''We had nothing left,'' Rivers said. ''That's how it felt, as a coach. ... But overall, I don't know if I've ever had a group like this.''
Brandon Bass scored 16, Allen finished with 15 and Kevin Garnett scored 14 for the Celtics, who know next season could bring big changes.
A team that was under .500 at the All-Star break almost made the NBA finals.
''One game away on the road, banged up. ... I don't know if we could have gotten any more from the group,'' Rivers said.
NOTES: Strange but true: Celtics fans in leprechaun outfits - green glittery vests, bow ties and hats - posed for photos with fans during the game. They were seated directly behind Arison. ... Also strange but true: Manny Pacquiao - from the Philippines, the country where Spoelstra's mother hails from - planned to delay the start of his fight Saturday night so he could see Game 7. Pacquiao is a Celtics fan. ... It was Heat F Udonis Haslem's 32nd birthday. ... Former Heat forward Jamal Mashburn and former Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn chatted near the Boston bench before the game.