Dwyane Wade fulfilled his vow.
It wasn’t easy, and didn’t come with the expected formula.
But the Miami Heat are moving on after Wednesday’s 97-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at AmericanAirlines Arena.
A year ago, when the Heat were bounced out of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics, Wade vowed in his postgame media session at TD Garden, “This will be my last first-round exit for a while, I can tell you that.”
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Wade lived up to his words, with the Heat eliminating the 76ers 4-1 in the best-of-seven opening-round NBA playoff series. It is the first series win for the Heat since defeating the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the 2006 NBA Finals.
Next up are the visiting Boston Celtics, with a 3:30 p.m. Sunday start of that best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
While Wade expected safe passage through the first round in the wake of last July’s free-agent haul of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, he probably didn’t expect this script.
While Bosh kept the Heat afloat early, closing with 22 points and 11 rebounds, James struggled to a 1-of-6, three-point first half before finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Wade, who went into attack mode late, added 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
But just as essential, and most essential early, was reserve point guard Mario Chalmers, who closed with 20 points, just the seventh time in franchise postseason history a reserve has scored 20 or more.
Chalmers and backup center Joel Anthony entered early after the Heat, for the fourth time in the series, found themselves with a double-digit first-quarter deficit. Coach Erik Spoelstra, in fact, never reinserted starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and starting point guard Mike Bibby after they exited with 7:33 to play in the opening period.
Instead, Chalmers and Anthony started the second half, with Spoelstra finding token minutes for seldom-used reserves Eddie House and Juwan Howard.
Forward Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand scored 22 apiece for the 76ers.
For the Heat, it was just another reminder of how much the team misses forwards Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, players signed to second-tier contracts in July to support Wade, James and Bosh.
Miller, who is dealing with a painful left thumb, sat out his third consecutive game. There is a strong chance both Miller and Haslem return for the Celtics series.
The Heat appeared to finally break free when Wade converted a 3-pointer with 8:34 to play to push the Heat to an 81-71 lead.
But Philadelphia moved back within 86-84 with 3:15 to play on a pair of Jrue Holiday free throws.
James then worked his way to the foul line with 2:56 to play, converting both free throws for an 88-84 Heat lead.
Iguodala followed with a jumper to make it a two-point game, with Bosh then working his way to the line with 2:17 to go. A pair of Bosh free throws and a Thaddeus Young jumper left it 90-88 Heat.
After an unproductive possession of their own, the Heat forced a miss by 76ers rookie swingman Evan Turner, calling time with 70 seconds to play.