MIAMI — Its season, its legacy, its reign atop the NBA were all at stake, and the Heat responded in a manner befitting defending champions: with a blowout.
LeBron James had 32 points and eight rebounds, ailing Dwyane Wade matched his postseason high with 21 points and Miami ran away from the Pacers 99-76 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night.
In the NBA Finals for the third straight year, the Heat will play the Spurs in a series that starts Thursday in Miami.
"They're just an amazing group of guys," Heat managing general partner Micky Arison said not long after handing the East championship trophy to Chris Andersen, who held it aloft as teammates standing around him celebrated. "They've given us an incredible season so far, but it's a long way from over."
It could have ended Monday. The Heat had alternated wins and losses with the Pacers in the first six games and was coming off its worst offensive outing of the season in Game 6.
It responded with a rout despite shooting just less than 40 percent, well below its norm.
"By any means necessary … we took care of business," James said.
Miami led by as many as 28 points, a shocking amount for a series that had an aggregate score of Heat 569, Pacers 564 entering Monday night. The Heat trailed by six in the early going and was still down 21-19 after the first quarter, and it was starting to look as if it would be one of those down-to-the-wire nights.
Not even close.
James exited with 5:08 left, shaking retired soccer star David Beckham's hand as he made his way to the Heat bench for a relatively subdued celebration. Not long afterward, security personnel started what's become a familiar task in Miami: surrounding the court and stretching out a yellow rope, preparing to hold people at bay for the on-court trophy presentation.
"You never want to take anything for granted," Wade said. "Being here three straight years in a row, going back to the finals, is an amazing feat. I'm just glad we were able to do it. Everything that happened in the first six games didn't mean anything to us. It was about tonight. It was about Game 7. It was about finding a way to win here at home."
More than a few people didn't stick around to see the East title presented. This wasn't the win that will satisfy the Heat in an all-or-nothing season.
All-Star Paul George, who was held to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting and fouled out early in the fourth quarter, was the last Indiana player on the floor as Miami prepped for its postgame celebration, shaking any hand he could find before being walked toward the visiting locker room by Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who slung an arm over his shoulder.
His time may come.
"The great thing is we're a young team and we are past the building stage," George said. "This is really our first year tasting success. The rate we are going, we see championships soon."
Heat 99, Pacers 76
INDIANA (76): George 2-9 2-4 7, West 6-15 2-3 14, Hibbert 7-11 4-5 18, Hill 4-14 2-2 13, Stephenson 4-8 0-0 10, Augustin 0-0 2-2 2, T.Hansbrough 2-2 2-2 6, Young 0-1 0-0 0, Mahinmi 0-0 0-2 0, Green 1-5 0-0 2, Johnson 1-1 0-0 2, Pendergraph 1-2 0-0 2, B.Hansbrough 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-69 14-20 76.
MIAMI (99): James 8-17 15-16 32, Haslem 1-4 1-2 3, Bosh 3-13 2-2 9, Chalmers 3-8 1-2 7, Wade 7-16 7-7 21, Miller 0-3 0-0 0, Allen 3-6 1-1 10, Andersen 1-3 5-6 7, Cole 3-4 1-2 8, Lewis 1-2 0-0 2, Anthony 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-76 33-38 99.
Indiana 21 16 18 21— 76
Miami 19 33 24 23— 99
3-Point Goals—Indiana 6-20 (Hill 3-7, Stephenson 2-4, George 1-4, Young 0-1, Green 0-4), Miami 6-16 (Allen 3-5, Cole 1-1, Bosh 1-2, James 1-2, Lewis 0-1, Chalmers 0-2, Miller 0-3). Fouled Out—George. Rebounds—Indiana 43 (Hibbert 8), Miami 55 (Wade 9). Assists—Indiana 14 (Stephenson 5), Miami 14 (Cole, James 4). Total Fouls—Indiana 28, Miami 22. Technicals—Pendergraph, Indiana defensive three second, Cole. Ejected—Pendergraph, Cole. A—20,025 (19,600).
NEW YORK — Jason Kidd retired from the NBA after 19 seasons, ending one of the greatest careers for a point guard in league history. Kidd won an NBA title and two Olympic gold medals, is second on the career list in assists and steals and was a 10-time All-Star. But he struggled badly in the playoffs for the Knicks shortly after turning 40 and decided to walk away with two years and more than $6 million left on his contract.
ELSEWHERE: Former NBA All-Star Daron "Mookie" Blaylock has been charged with vehicular homicide in a head-on crash Friday in suburban Atlanta, Jonesboro Police Chief Franklin Allen said. … The Grizzlies have given coach Lionel Hollins permission to talk with other teams. Hollins told a radio station that he wants to continue coaching Memphis, but he reportedly has major philosophical differences with ownership and it wouldn't be a surprise if he left. His representatives reportedly contacted the Clippers about their opening Monday. … Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari said he will have surgery to repair the ACL on his left knee next week and is hoping to be on the court around February.