kevin garnett & lebron james

Boston's Kevin Garnett defends the Heat's LeBron James

*It could’ve gone either way … until about 8 minutes into the 4th quarter.

That’s when the Miami Heat asserted themselves and pulled away and eventually won game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals 101-88 to move on to the NBA Finals and play the Oklahoma City Thunder.

LeBron James finally got a Game 7 victory, on his third try.

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 Boston Celtics 101-88 in Game 7 on Saturday night.

Miami opens the title series in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.

Dwyane Wade scored 23 and Shane Battier added 12 for the Heat, who won a Game 7 for the first time since 2004 — Wade’s rookie season.

For Boston, Rajon Rondo finished with 22 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for Boston, which got 19 points from Paul 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.

When Heat president Pat Riley was shown on the giant overhead video screen in the moments just after the final buzzer, the crowd screamed. Riley finally acknowledged them with some claps, before the 2012 Eastern Conference champions logo was shown as players below the scoreboard high-fived and hugged, all wearing the new T-shirts and caps that marked the accomplishment.

The screams kept coming, first when Alonzo Mourning took the microphone — “We still got a lot of work to do,” Mourning said — and then again when he handed the trophy to Heat owner Micky Arison.

“A roller-coaster ride,” Arison said.

A roller-coaster game, too. In a roller-coaster season.

Read/learn more at ESPN.

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