CHICAGO (AP) - This was how LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh envisioned it when they decided to unite in Miami, and now that a championship is in sight, they're not offering any apologies.
Don't like the decision?
Still upset about how everything unfolded?
Fine, but understand this:
``I wanted to team up with some guys that I understood would never die down in the moment,' James said. ``The opportunity presented itself with this great organization, and D-Wade came to me and said it was possible. We made it happen.'
Did they ever, just when it seemed this series was about to be extended.
James scored 28 points, Wade added 21, and they led a furious rally in the final minutes as the Heat eliminated Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls 83-80 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.
James and Wade were simply spectacular down the stretch, each scoring eight during a game-ending 18-3 run as the Heat wiped out a 12-point deficit to win the series.
Now, they are headed back to the NBA finals for the first time since 2006, and in a fitting twist, they'll be facing the Mavericks. Back then, with Wade leading the way, Miami beat Dallas to capture the championship. This time, it'll be James and Dirk Nowitzki going at it for their first rings.
The Heat will host Game 1 on Tuesday night.
``There's no sense of relief right now,' James said. ``We've still got work to do. We'll look at this moment tonight, have a little bit of time tomorrow to go over this moment, what we just accomplished. But we get ready for Dallas very soon. We don't take for granted this win and take for granted being Eastern Conference champions.'
Even so, this is exactly where the Big Three intended to be right from the start, like it or not. And it's safe to say, most don't.
The Heat, after all, wore that villain label well. The free-agent frenzy left a bitter taste for many, particularly after James' announcement on national TV.
As for the hatred?
``What's today's date - the 26th?' James said. ``I say we've got about a month left. About a month left of continued hate. We'll see what happens next year.'
The Heat have more immediate matters at hand. They had their difficulties getting this far, including a five-game losing streak in March, but look at them now.
They just knocked off the team that won more games than any other, that boasted the league's MVP in Rose and sent expectations soaring around Chicago in a way not seen since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were racking up championships.
Rose led Chicago with 25 points but hit just 9 of 29 shots. He fouled Wade on a key four-point play and missed a tying free throw with 26.7 seconds left.
``At the end, it's all me,' Rose said. ``Turnovers, missed shots, fouls. The series is over.'
James had 11 rebounds and six assists. Wade's late surge helped negate his nine turnovers. Bosh added 20 points and 10 rebounds.
``We had to go through a lot of adversity,' coach Erik Spoelstra said. ``That struggle that we went through in March, where we lost five straight - all of them close games, where we didn't execute down the stretch and weren't able to close games out - that helped us. As painful as that was, we had to go through that fire together to be able to gain the confidence where we could be successful now in the postseason.'
The Bulls looked as if they were in good shape up 77-65 with about three minutes to go, but Wade started the deciding run with a runner and layup. A 3-pointer by James pulled Miami to 77-72 with 2:07 left. Rose then scored on a spin move in the lane, but fouled Wade as he nailed a 3, resulting in the four-point play.
Then, after a miss by Rose, James tied it at 79 with another 3 with 1:01 remaining, sending a loud groan through the arena.
James buried another jumper to put Miami ahead 81-79 with 29.5 seconds left after he stole a pass from Rose. He immediately fouled Rose, who made the first free throw but missed the second.
Kurt Thomas then tipped the inbound pass, but the Heat recovered, leading to two free throws for Bosh. The Bulls still had one more chance to tie it, but Kyle Korver got doubled up top and passed to Rose on the wing. His 3-point attempt was blocked by James, with Udonis Haslem doubling him as time expired.
``We don't even know what happened,' Wade said. ``I'm not going to lie to you and say we do.'
It all seemed like a blur to him - and not just the late rally. The entire season, really.
Wade scrolled all the way back to those first few days of training camp, when the Heat gathered at Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's Panhandle, trying to limit distractions.
``It just seems like yesterday we were coming together as a new unit, and the Miami organization decided we needed to get away and (have) it just be about us and not let any outside distractions get in,' he said. ``And it was just about us.'
Now, James and his gang have their title shot.
Notes: Not since the Houston Rockets dropped Game 1 to Phoenix in the 1995 Western Conference semifinals had a team won a best-of-seven after dropping the opener by more than 20. Twenty-three teams had lost Game 1's in that situation and gone on to lose the series before the Heat eliminated the Bulls. ... Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had high praise for rookie C Omer Asik, who missed the game with a season-ending broken left fibula. With Asik out, veteran Brian Scalabrine was active.
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