Keeping Score

No Choke: LeBron James and Miami Heat Move One Step Closer to Championship

The Miami Heat bounce the Boston Celtics, perhaps ending a memorable Eastern Conference Rivalry

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REUTERS/Joe Skipper

LeBron James shoots over Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics in the third quarter of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, played in Miami, Florida on June 9, 2012. Miami won, 101-88, to advance to the NBA Finals.

There’d be no more choking for LeBron James.

Sure, James and the Heat, who advanced to the NBA Finals after beating the Boston Celtics, 101-88, in an intense Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, must still win one more series before being crowed champions. But in his last two outings, James has done serious damage to his reputation as a player who wilts under pressure.

Following his 45 point, 15 rebound, 5 assist effort in Game 6, James scored 31 points, and grabbed 12 rebounds in Game 7 (strangely, he only had two assists). James received plenty of help. Dwyane Wade added 23 points – and even more importantly, made several key hustle plays down the stretch that kept Miami possessions alive. Chris Bosh, who missed the first four games of this series with an abdominal injury, is back: Bosh scored 19 points, and even hit three three-pointers. Miami’s “Big Three” scored the Heat’s final 31 points down the stretch.

James’s game wasn’t as fluid as it was in Game 6: in fact, his outside shot seemed out of rhythm. He won this game with his body. Picking up steam while dribbling across half court, he used his strength to consistently barrel into the lane to draw fouls. He’s the greatest force in basketball. James finished 12 for 17 from the foul line.

His most memorable shot, however, was a three-pointer. With the Heat holding a tenuous 88-84 lead with just under six minutes left – during one stretch in the third and fourth quarters, the lead changed hands 14 times – and the shot clock running down, Boston’s Brandon Bass seemed to have James covered. But James stepped back and launched a deep three-pointer from the left side that fell through the net. He held his folllow-through in the air, for show. He knew that shot would put the dagger in the Celtics.

(MORE: Why LeBron Doesn’t Need To Win a Title)

While playing for both Miami and Cleveland, James has developed a passionate rivalry with Boston. The Celtics bounced James and the Cavs from the playoffs in 2008 and 2010, while James’ Heat teams have avenged those losses these past two postseasons. Unfortunately for NBA fans, these feuds have likely seen their last days. Both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are free agents, and Boston seems keen on getting younger. The Celtics can build around point guard Rajon Rondo, who enjoyed another outstanding playoff game (Rondo had a triple double, with 22 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds). Boston coach Doc Rivers got teary in the final minutes of Game 7, as Garnett went to the bench. Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce, who won the title in 2008 and returned to the Finals in 2010, revitalized one of the league’s most storied franchises. Boston’s Big 3 will never be forgotten.

Miami’s Big 3, who have been showered with more media hype than Boston’s trio ever was, are still chasing what Garnett, Allen, and Pierce own: a championship. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder await Miami. The Finals tip off on Tuesday night, in OKC. If Miami goes down in the Finals, we bet it’s because ¬†Oklahoma City is the deeper, more well-rounded team. We doubt LeBron will choke and look lost, like he did last year against Dallas in the Finals.

It appears he’s learned from those mistakes. He’s just too good to disappear.

(MORE: Inside The Mind Of NBA Superstar Kevin Durant)