Dwyane Wade has all summer to recruit him.
Ray Allen scored 24 points, making five 3-pointers in the second half to help Boston beat Miami 96-86 on Tuesday night and eliminate the Heat in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The Celtics will play James and the Cavaliers in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series that will open Saturday in Cleveland.
"I think it's a great matchup. It's great for basketball -- such a classic series," said Paul Pierce, who scored 21 points on Tuesday. "They're the team to beat right now. They showed it through the course of the season the way they played. We know this is going to be a tough series, another really, really tough series."
Wade scored 31 points, far short of the franchise postseason-record 46 he had Sunday in Miami to help the Heat stave off elimination in Game 4. Now that the Heat are done, he can become a free agent -- the No. 2 prize in one of the hottest offseason markets in memory.
"I can't predict the future," Wade said, his mood somber but his outfit resplendent. "It's going to be a very important summer. It's going to be a busy summer. But right now I've still got to get this out of my system first. I'm a good sportsman, but I don't take losing well."
Rajon Rondo scored 16 points, adding 12 assists and eight rebounds as Boston opened a 21-point lead and then held on after Miami cut the deficit to 73-70 with 10:14 to play. Allen drove and drew a foul and goaltending call on Joel Anthony to make it six points, then hit a 3-pointer 90 seconds later to extend the lead to eight.
Kevin Garnett made a pair of outside shots and Pierce made one from inside to make it a 12-point game with six minutes left. With 1:18 remaining and Boston leading by 10, the scoreboard showed the disco-dancing "Gino" video the Celtics has been using to celebrate victories since the championship run in '08.
"It's never too early to play 'Gino' in this building," Garnett said.
The Cavaliers beat Chicago 96-94 later Tuesday to clinch their first-round series in five games. But even before it was over, the Celtics were already thinking about James.
"We just have to come out with a defensive mindset, keep LeBron from getting on fire," center Kendrick Perkins said in the on-court, postgame scoreboard interview while the Cavaliers and Bulls were early in the third quarter.
The Celtics hooked up with James and the Cavaliers for seven games in the conference semis in 2008 on the way to Boston's unprecedented 17th NBA championship. But Cleveland has since surpassed Boston in the standings and earned the home-court advantage through the NBA Finals.
Asked directly if the Celtics can beat Cleveland -- the Cavs and Bulls were tied in the fourth quarter at the time -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, "Well, I'll let you know."
The Celtics led by as many as 21 points in the third before Miami scored 16 of the next 18 points to make it 69-62. Wade scored 13 in what turned into a 24-6 run that cut the deficit to 73-70 on his three-point play with 10:14 left in the game.
Wade scored 20 in the second half in all; he also finished with 10 assists and eight rebounds. But he was just 10-for-24 shooting and 2 for 7 from 3-point range in the game. He missed all three of his 3-point tries in the fourth quarter as the Heat tried to eat away at the remainder of the Celtics' big lead.
Wade, who averaged 33.2 points in the series, can now join James on the free agent market, with the possibility that the two could wind up together in Miami next year or another team that would be an instant title contender.
"This is going to be my last first-round loss for a while," Wade said. "I'm looking for a good team to build, and being with some great players next year, if the team can beef up our roster.
"I think I put myself in a great situation three years ago to sign this deal, to make sure my team stayed competitive. We've got some work to do, the front office has [work] to do. You just have to see things being done, being accomplished. If we see that," he told a Miami-area reporter, "we'll be talking again."
It was the second straight night a Boston team clinched a playoff series at the TD Garden. On Monday, the Bruins beat the Buffalo Sabres in Game 6 to advance to the NHL's Eastern Conference semifinals and a matchup with either the Philadelphia Flyers or Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Celtics made four 3-pointers in the first 4:37 of the third quarter and took a 67-46 lead with seven minutes left. But Mario Chalmers hit back-to-back 3 pointers and Wade followed soon after with a pair of free throws and a pair of 3-pointers to make it 69-62 with 2:18 left in the third.
Miami cut it to three before Allen drove and drew a foul and goaltending call on Joel Anthony.
- Pierce passed Dennis Johnson for ninth on the Celtics career playoff scoring list.
- It was Wade's 63rd straight postseason game with double digits in scoring.
- Chalmers, who scored 20, outscored the entire Celtics bench (13 points).
- Allen had seven 3-pointers in Game 2.
- Rivers had never won a playoff series in as few as five games.