When the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game Seven Thursday night, they put themselves in the conversation. The Big Three have now won consecutive NBA titles. Since losing to Dallas on their home court, the Heat have responded like champions. They’ve earned it. After coming back to win in five over the Thunder last year, they rallied from the depths pulling out a classic Game Six in overtime and then completing it by besting the Spurs in an exciting final game.
LeBron James answered the bell again by putting on a dominant display. After carrying his team with 18 points in the fourth quarter and overtime en route to a fourth career Finals triple double (32, 11 and 10), the 28-year old superman tied a Finals Game Seven record with 37 while grabbing 12 rebounds. He was there when the Heat needed him most. The Spurs strategy backfired. James repeatedly knocked down jumpers including five three’s that turned the tide. He also hit a clutch mid-range jumper that put Miami up 92-88 out of a well used timeout by coach Erik Spoelstra. When the chips were down, Spoelstra out-coached the game’s best, Gregg Popovich, who will take the conclusion to Game Six with him as will Manu Ginobili who admitted it was still in his head.
Sports are mental. It can affect the physical. Ginobili’s mistakes came back to haunt San Antonio. Even though he played a better deciding game scoring 18 and dishing out five assists, a bad pass right to James sealed it with 24 seconds left. James calmly knocked down both free throws extending to 94-88. Another difference between winning and losing. When the Spurs had the Heat beaten, they missed two keeping the door ajar. They’ll forever replay that sequence where Chris Bosh grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked out for Ray Allen, whose clutch right corner trey forced OT. The rest is history.
Despite losing in excruciating fashion, the Spurs came to play. They jumped out to an 11-4 lead. But the Heat came back thanks to a big night from Shane Battier. Battier had been quiet all series but in a money situation, he drained six triples for 18 points. His clutch shooting along with Mario Chalmers‘ 14 provided a lift. The Heat got a strong game from Dwyane Wade. At 31 with bad knees, he might not be what he once was. However, Wade’s a gamer. When they needed Game Four, he turned back the clock with 32 points, four assists and six steals- combining with James and Bosh for 84 of their 109 in a 16-point win to even the series at two. Knowing James needed help, Wade delivered a double double (23 and 10) shooting seven for twelve in the first half.
James started slowly but picked it up as he tends to. He saved his best for crunch time. He’d been hesitant to shoot all series. Following a strong finish, he found his groove knocking down a three from the left wing. James has a comfort level from that spot. It’s where he did most of his damage on the perimeter. In another sequence, he asked Allen to give the ball back to him. He set a quick screen and James’ launched and swished. The Heat led by five in the third and seemed on the verge of pulling away. But every time the crowd was ready to explode, the Spurs answered.
Tim Duncan abused foul plagued Chris Bosh inside en route to a team high 24 while grabbing 12 boards. The 37-year old is the greatest power forward to ever play. He wasn’t as dominant as Game Six but had a strong game. On a night where James bottled up Tony Parker (3-12 FG 10 Pts 4 A), the Heat’s attention to detail flustered Danny Green. The new Finals three-point record holder shot a dismal 1 of 12 and made only 1 of 6 three’s. They counted on second-year forward Kawhi Leonard. The 21-year old was brilliant finishing with 19 points and 16 rebounds. So versatile, he was able to guard James and even blow by him at times. He made an acrobatic reverse flip and converted at the line for a three-point play. He also hit his only trey answering Battier’s final one to put the Spurs within three late. Ginobili also hit a three and set up Duncan. San Antonio got a couple of stops and had a golden opportunity to tie it. But a Duncan flip wouldn’t go, eerily reminding of the painful 1995 Knicks memory of Patrick Ewing missing that finger roll against the Pacers. It was such an easy finish. One Duncan has made so many times. Perhaps symbolic.
James then made one more big jumper over Leonard. Then Ginobili panicked with the ball as he had in that fateful Game Six. As good a game as we’ve seen. James made free throws and the Heat put it away for a well deserved repeat. One fit for a King. The best player in the world silenced critics with an awesome display. When the final buzzer rang in South Beach, they didn’t go crazy. Instead, there was a nice scene where Popovich congratulated Spoelstra and then hugged LeBron and Wade, who both paid homage. This was as classy as it gets. The respect shown between competitors, who fought hard. There was no trash talk or technicals. Just great basketball. The kind the NBA could be proud of.
As it turned out, commissioner David Stern’s last year was a fitting conclusion to a great run. It’s easy to knock him but he took over and everything came together. The NBA’s popularity has grown worldwide. Everyone watches. He can be proud of the product. James finally taking the mantle and running with it. Fittingly, legend Bill Russell presented James the award named after the greatest champion the game’s ever seen. All this time later, Russell who went 10 for 10 with the famed Celtics still has the smile of a kid. A man who loved what he saw. Seeing him with LeBron was awesome. The second proving to be more challenging. The cynics remain. I guess they’ll always be there waiting to rain on James’ parade. He answered them perfectly, saying he wasn’t supposed to be here. A kid from Akron, Ohio who grew up on the inner streets made good. Time to celebrate him.