x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

LeBron James leads humble Miami Heat to fourth straight final

“I’m blessed,” James said. “And we won’t take this opportunity for granted. It’s an unbelievable franchise, it’s an unbelievable group, and we know we still have work to do.”

Miami Heat forward LeBron James, right, gave the Indiana Pacers fits for the third straight year in the NBA play-offs.  Rhona Wise / EPA
Miami Heat forward LeBron James, right, gave the Indiana Pacers fits for the third straight year in the NBA play-offs. Rhona Wise / EPA

MIAMI // By now, the Miami Heat know how the on-court celebration works. Someone distributes new hats, another hands out new T-shirts, someone hands them a gleaming trophy.

Amid it all, LeBron James simply beamed.

“We won’t take this for granted,” James said.

For the fourth straight time, the Heat are Eastern Conference champions and for the third straight year, they had to eliminate the Indiana Pacers on the way to getting there.

James and Chris Bosh each scored 25 points, and Miami rolled past the Pacers 117-92 on Friday night to win the East finals in six games.

“I’m blessed. Very blessed. Very humbled,” James said. “And we won’t take this opportunity for granted. It’s an unbelievable franchise, it’s an unbelievable group, and we know we still have work to do.”

That work starts on Thursday night in either San Antonio or Oklahoma City. The NBA Finals start in the city of the West champion.

The Heat set a franchise record with their 11th straight home postseason win, going back to the final two games of last season’s NBA finals, leading by 37 at one point.

“The group loves to compete and loves to compete at the highest level, and be pushed to new levels,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. Indiana led the East for much of the regular season, one where the Pacers were fuelled by the memory of losing Game 7 of the East finals in Miami a year ago. So they spent this season with a clear goal: toppling Miami as kings of the East.

The Pacers were two games better in the regular season. They were two games worse in the postseason.

“It’s bitterly disappointing to fall short of our goals,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.

“It’s bitterly disappointing to lose to this team three years in a row. But we’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era, and you have to tip your hats to them for the way they played this whole series.”

So now, the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers have some company. Until Friday, they were the only teams in NBA history to reach the finals in four straight years.

“It’s all about 15 special men and what they’ve been able to accomplish these last four years,” said Heat managing general partner Micky Arison.

“Just a little bit more work to do, but I’m really proud of the incredible job that these guys have done.”

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