MIAMI --Behind Boston much of the season. Behind Boston much of the game.
Not only has the Miami Heat caught the Celtics -- they have officially gone past them, and into the Eastern Conference finals.
Vanquishing the team they couldn't beat for so long with a 16-0 run to end the game, Dwyane Wade scored 34 points, LeBron James put the Heat up for good with a 3-pointer with 2:10 left on the way to a 33-point effort, and Miami topped Boston 97-87 to win their East semifinal series Wednesday night in five games.
James added a game-sealing -- more aptly, a series-sealing -- 3-pointer with 40.4 seconds left, then turned and posed for some fans who screamed in delight.
"They make you fight for everything," James said. "You can never take the foot off the gas. You can never take a second off against that team."
So he kept playing, all the way to the final second.
A steal and two-handed slam 6 seconds later for good measure, followed by a Celtics turnover, got the party started. It was over, the Heat and Celtics knew it, and Boston coach Doc Rivers stood silently near the bench, his arms folded across his chest as James ran down the clock on Miami's final offensive possession of the series.
Of course, he scored.
Boston was done, thoroughly worn down by a younger, more athletic opponent. The Celtics won the first three meetings between the clubs this season, then lost five of the final six.
"It was a series that all of us wanted, really since training camp," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Wade was knocked over into some courtside seats trying to snare the final rebound, but that only prolonged the moment. James knelt in prayer for several seconds, then ran over to wrap Wade in a long embrace as the fans screamed loudly.
This is why he stayed in Miami, while James and Chris Bosh came to Miami, to chase a championship.
They're halfway there. Next up for Miami: Either Chicago or Atlanta, in a series that may start as early as Sunday. Chicago leads the series 3-2.
"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."
Bosh finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, including head-faking his way past Kevin Garnett for a game-tying dunk with 2:57 left.
The rest was up to James.
He scored the game's final 10 points, putting to rest talk that he couldn't be effective late in games.
"I never even got to all that with (what) everybody was saying about me in late-game situations," James said. "I know what I work hard for, and that's to be put in those positions. My coaching staff gave me a lot of confidence. Teammates kept giving me confidence, and happy to bring it home."
It's Miami's fourth trip to the East finals, its first since 2006.
Ray Allen led Boston with 18 points. Garnett had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Paul Pierce scored 12 and Delonte West added 10.
Rajon Rondo finished with six points in 31 minutes for Boston, playing with what appeared to be a slimmer brace over the still-painful left elbow that he dislocated during Game 3.
"I know we gave a lot in Game 3," Rivers said. "And I don't know if we could ever get that effort back."
The Celtics got one measure of a victory Wednesday night: Ending months of speculation, Rivers said he will likely return to coach next season.
"I'm a Celtic," Rivers said. "And I love our guys. I want to win again here. I'm competitive as hell, I have a competitive group. So we'll see. That's where I'm at today. Tomorrow I may change my mind."
Boston led virtually all of the first three quarters -- Miami led for 1:45 of the game's first 36 minutes -- but that hardly meant the Celtics were in control. Boston's lead was only 73-71 entering the fourth, even though the Celtics rendered everyone but Wade and James practically irrelevant offensively.
Wade had 30 points through three quarters. James added 20, while the rest of the Heat managed only 21.
And when everyone went cold to open the fourth, Boston seized a bit of control. West scored six of the Celtics' first eight points in the final quarter, the last of those coming on a drive with 9:21 left for an 81-74 lead.
It was their last hurrah.
With their season at stake, it was no surprise that Boston opened strongly.
And for the Celtics, that meant with defense.
Miami shot 5 for 19 in the game's opening 14 minutes, plus made six turnovers in that span to help Boston take a 26-16 lead by the early portion of the second quarter. Garnett started particularly strongly, going 5 for 7 from the field for 12 points in the opening quarter, punching his chest at times after makes.
The Heat survived that, answering with an 11-2 run to get within 28-27 on a short jumper by Wade with 8:04 left.
They had to endure a second Boston burst later in the half. Allen made 3-pointers 1:51 apart to cap a brief spurt that pushed Boston's lead back to 39-31, the second of those long shots coming on a play where referee Scott Foster called Wade and Garnett for double fouls that left Miami steaming.
It may have helped fuel a response. Miami scored 16 of the final 26 points of the half, drawing within 49-47. Wade was 9 for 12 by halftime, while the rest of his team was a combined 6 for 24.
NOTES: Celebrities at the game included financial guru Suze Orman (in a jacket, as always) and 18-time golf major champion Jack Nicklaus (in no jacket, Masters green or otherwise). ... The game's first six sets of two-shot trips to the foul line resulted in everyone going 1 for 2 -- Wade and Garnett did it twice, with James and Joel Anthony doing it once. ... Wade had a spectacular play with 1:22 left in the opening quarter, when he fought off Jeff Green to rebound a missed 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers, then -- while falling, in one motion -- tossed it off the rim and in, beginning a three-point play.