Result: Miami beat Boston 97-87.
What it means: The Heat move on to the Eastern Conference finals with a 4-1 series win.
How it happened: He scored the game’s final 10 points. He knelt on the court when it was over. He even apologized afterward for any feelings that may have been hurt last summer when he left Cleveland for Miami.
For LeBron James, the night was emotional and unforgettable.
And imagine: The Miami Heat are only halfway through the pursuit of an NBA title.
Finally vanquishing their rivals from Boston, Dwyane Wade scored 34 points, James added 33 — including a spectacular closing flourish — and the Heat went on a 16-0 run over the final 4:15 to beat the Celtics 97-87 on Wednesday and win their Eastern Conference semifinal series in five games.
When it was over, James took a knee, oblivious to the photographers who quickly surrounded him in Miami’s celebration. By then, some of the Celtics were already back in the locker room, skipping the customary end-of-series handshakes. James didn’t seem to notice.
“Everything went through my mind at that point,” James said. “Finally getting over this hump against this team. Everything I went through this summer, with ‘The Decision’ and deciding to come down here to be a part of this team … because I knew how important team is to this sport … and all the backlash I got from it.
“I’d be up here for two hours if I tell you exactly everything that went through my head. Very emotional at that point, you know, and happy we got through it as a team.”
That they did — as a team.
James Jones hit a 3-pointer that kickstarted the final push, and Chris Bosh finished with 14 points — none of them more important than the two coming when he blew past Kevin Garnett for a game-tying dunk with 2:57 left.
Wade carried Miami early, then James finished the job. His personal 10-0 run to close the game put some long-simmering Celtics demons to rest.
“I play with the two best players in the league,” Bosh said. “And we do this together.”
True, this was about the collective.
And in the end, for James, it was also personal. The Boston series a year ago was painful for him, as was the summer — and the fallout — that followed after he left Cleveland.
“I apologize for the way it happened,” James said.
But I knew that this opportunity was once in a lifetime.
The Heat said often in this series, Boston laid the plan for what Miami needed to ultimately do to become champions.
James said it again when it was over Wednesday night.
“It’s a great team,” James said of Boston in the on-court celebration. “Like I said, I got the utmost respect for that team. They’re the reason why all three of us came together, is because of what they did, that blueprint they had in ’08 when they all came together. So it’s a great team win and get ready for our next opponent.”
It’s Miami’s fourth trip to the East finals, its first since 2006.
Result: The Thunder beat the Grizzlies 99-72.
What it means: Oklahoma pull ahead into a 3-2 series lead.
How it happened: Back at home for Game 5, the Oklahoma City Thunder made quick work of a Grizzlies team they needed so long to vanquish in Memphis.
Now, it’s back to the house of overtimes.
Kevin Durant scored 19 points, reserve Daequan Cook added 18 and the Thunder took the series lead in the Western Conference semifinals for the first time by beating the Grizzlies 99-72 on Wednesday night.
Just two nights after Oklahoma City needed three overtimes to emerge with a 133-123 victory, Durant and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook weren’t even needed in the fourth quarter of a blowout.
“We don’t want to be overconfident, I think, but I think we’ve got a good level of confidence,” Durant said. “There’s a difference. There’s a fine line between being cocky and confident.”
Game 6 is Friday night in Memphis. Another sellout crowd is expected at the FedEx Forum, where the Grizzlies claimed Game 3 in overtime — just one overtime.
“I think our confidence is at a solid level,” said Westbrook, who scored 11 in 25 minutes — half his playing time from the previous game.
We know that it’s going to be loud in there and going to be tough in a hostile environment. We’ve just got to go in there and play our game defensively. If we go in with a positive mindset, I think we’ll be all right.
The Grizzlies were a ragged bunch throughout the game and didn’t get much from their potent frontcourt tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Randolph, who played 56 minutes in the marathon Game 4, finished with nine points and seven rebounds and even missed four of his first five free throws. He had been averaging 26 points and 14 rebounds in the series.
Gasol, who was averaging 18.8 points and 12.8 rebounds in the series, grabbed just five boards and did most of his scoring during a 6-minute stretch in the third quarter.
Then the Grizzlies fell hopelessly behind.
Memphis didn’t stand a chance of a comeback. Too many missed layups. Too many short shots that clanked off the front rim. Too little energy left.
Mike Conley made just 4 of 16 shots, Tony Allen was 4 for 13 and O.J. Mayo 2 for 8 on a dreadful night when nothing was going in.
“Shots weren’t falling for us but you still have to come with great effort and we didn’t bring it at all,” Conley said. “They outplayed us in every area of the game. I wish I could tell you why. It just wasn’t there.
“They hit us and kept hitting us and we didn’t fight back.”
The Grizzlies will have to hope to be re-energized by a return to their own home court in a bid to force a deciding Game 7 on Sunday afternoon in Oklahoma City.
“It’s not about fatigue at this point. I’m not tired,” Allen said. “It’s about competing for 48 minutes. This is a one-game series for us now. That’s how we have to look at it.”
– Match reports by AP