CHICAGO - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh joined to win a championship. Well, now they have their shot.
James scored 28 points, Wade added 21, and they led a furious rally in the final minutes as the Miami Heat eliminated Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, 83-80, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday.
James and Wade were simply spectacular down the stretch, each scoring eight during a game-ending, 18-3 run as Miami wiped out a 12-point deficit to win the series.
Now, the Heat 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 for their first rings.
The Heat will host Game 1 on Tuesday night.
"We've been in these situations before during the season, being down late in the game," said James. "We just buckled down and executed."
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.
James had 11 rebounds and six assists. Wade's late surge helped negate his nine turnovers. Bosh added 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Heat pulled out a dramatic win.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did not seem awed by the dramatic comeback. "There hasn't been too much this season that's been normal for us," he said.
The Bulls looked like they were in good shape, up by 77-65 with about three minutes to go, but Wade started the deciding run with a runner and layup. A three by James pulled Miami within 77-72 with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left. Rose then scored on a spin move in the lane, but fouled Wade as he nailed a trey, resulting in a four-point play.
Then, after a miss by Rose, James tied it at 79 with another three with 1:01 remaining, sending a loud groan through the arena.
James buried another jumper to put Miami ahead by 81-79 with 29.5 seconds left. Rose immediately got fouled by James but missed the second free throw after making the first.
Kurt Thomas then tipped the inbounds 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 three-pointer got blocked by James, with Udonis Haslem doubling him as time expired.
DALLAS - Dirk Nowitzki wrapped his hands around the silver ball trophy that goes to the Western Conference champions and smiled. After five years, he and the Dallas Mavericks are kings of their conference again, earning another trip to the NBA Finals.
Yet Nowitzki didn't flash the wide, toothy grin of someone relieved to have accomplished his goal. Because he hasn't.
Unless the Mavs win the next round, too, and become NBA champions for the first time, their whole glorious postseason - and that silver trophy - won't mean as much. It's a lament heard by many superstars, but Nowitzki's indifference amid much of the frenzied celebration around him showed just how serious he is about it.
"I was already thinking about the Finals," he said. "This is nice for a day, but we set our goals in October to win it all. We haven't done it yet."
Dallas capped its climb back to the NBA Finals with a 100-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night that ended the Western finals in five games.
The young, up-and-coming Thunder made things tough on the older, now-or-possibly-never Mavericks as they had throughout the series. And, as he has throughout the postseason, Nowitzki made the plays that mattered most. His latest highlights: swishing a three-pointer with 1 minute, 14 seconds left that put Dallas ahead and making a pair of free throws with 13.3 seconds left to seal it.
"It feels good to finally go back," Nowitzki said. "This time, hopefully, we can finish the job."
OKLAHOMA CITY - Kevin Durant knows all about how the Oklahoma City Thunder have been tabbed as the NBA's team of the future during a meteoric rise from league laughingstock to title contender.
All through this season, he didn't want to think about the prospect of success down the road. He wanted it now.
"I think the pieces are here. We had a good opportunity to get there right now," Durant said Thursday, a day after Oklahoma City was eliminated by Dallas in the Western Conference finals.