MIAMI — This trip to the Eastern Conference finals did not come easily for Miami.
Down by eight with less than five minutes left and after trailing for virtually the entire game, the Heat found a way nonetheless to finish off the Brooklyn Nets and move into the NBA's final four for the fourth straight season.
Ray Allen's 3-pointer with 32 seconds left highlighted a huge Miami rally, and the Heat beat the Nets 96-94 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Wednesday night. The Heat won the series 4-1, improving to 9-0 at home in chances to close out series over the last four seasons.
LeBron James scored 29 points, and Dwyane Wade added 28 for the Heat, with Chris Bosh scoring 16 and Allen finishing with 13. James made one of two free throws with 9.5 seconds left to put the Heat up by two, and the Nets almost failed to get a potentially game-tying shot off after Paul Pierce lost it out of bounds, but it stayed with Brooklyn after replay.
And the Nets still couldn't get a shot away: Allen knocked it away from Joe Johnson as he made his move, and time expired.
Johnson had 34 points, Pierce scored 19, and Deron Williams had 17 for the Nets.
It's the sixth trip to the East title series in the past 10 seasons for Miami, which is bidding for a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals — something only the Lakers and Celtics franchises have accomplished.
James is heading there for the sixth time in eight seasons, the first two of those trips coming with Cleveland in 2007 and 2009.
The Heat will next face either fifth-seeded Washington or top-seeded Indiana. The Pacers lead that series 3-2, one win away from setting up a rematch with Miami that seemed like an absolute certainty for much of the season.
The tone for this one was set early: Clearly and predictably the more desperate team from the outset, Brooklyn ran out to an 11-4 lead before the game was three minutes old. The Heat weathered the early storm, and when James Jones connected on a 3-pointer with 3:02 left in the half, Miami held a 42-41 lead that was significant for two reasons.
One, it was Miami's only make on 16 attempts from 3-point range in the half.
Two, it was the last time Miami scored before intermission. Brooklyn finished on an 8-0 run and took a 49-42 lead into the break. The lone bright spot in the opening 24 minutes for Miami was Wade, who had 20 points — more than any other two players to that point combined — on 7-for-12 shooting.
Miami scored the first seven points of the second half, tying the game, before Brooklyn immediately answered with seven straight points of its own. The Nets extended the lead to 61-51 midway through the third on a 3-pointer by Williams, and whenever Miami tried to put together a run, Brooklyn found a way to keep things together.
- A layup from James late in the third got the Heat within three; a minute later, the margin was eight again.
- A free throw from James with 9:03 left cut Brooklyn's lead to 77-73; less than a minute later, it was 82-73 after a 3-pointer by Pierce.
- A 3-pointer by Bosh made it a four-point game again; two Brooklyn possessions and zero Miami stops later, it was 86-78 after a sensational step-back jumper by Johnson.
The Nets' sharpshooter was the story. Even with James draping Johnson, the Brooklyn guard got a three-point play to put the Nets up 89-80 with less than 6 minutes left. Another fadeaway on the next possession, with the shot clock running down, was pure by Johnson again, and the Nets could sense that the night would be theirs.
Then the Heat scored the next 12 points, and that was enough. Barely, but enough.