MIAMI — LeBron James certainly wasn’t doing himself any favors when he stood on a stage here three years ago and talked about winning “not five, not six, not seven” championships. While the city of Miami celebrated, most of the country snickered and rolled its eyes.
“Listen,” James would say late Thursday, “I can’t worry about what people say about me. What people say about me off the court doesn’t matter.”
Tony Parker, who is left off the floor for the Spurs final possession, is unhappy with Game 7’s result.
James’ words were always more hyperbole than an actual promise, because it’s unlikely that he will ever match Michael Jordan’s six titles. But give him credit for this: he’s working on it.
James and the Miami Heat are kings of the NBA for a second straight year as they captured Game 7 of the Finals with a thrilling 95-88 victory. Under Pat Riley’s stewardship, the Heat has won three championships in eight seasons and, as long as James stays healthy, Miami has a legitimate shot at a “three-peat,” a phrase Riley trademarked when he coached the Lakers.
Dwyane Wade throws one down with authority.
Meanwhile, the Spurs may never live down blowing Game 6 with the title in their grasp. The biggest mistake they made was giving James another chance. The mistake James’ detractors made was believing he wouldn’t win big once he decided to take his talents to South Beach.
On the stage of his big proclamation, James hoisted the Larry O’Brien championship trophy as well as the Bill Russell Finals MVP award, both for the second straight year. Yes, it is still good to be the King.
Is this the last run for the runner-up Spurs?
“The vision I had when I came here is coming true,” he said. “To win back-to-back championships is an unbelievable feeling.”
James was brilliant in the final game as he scored 37 points on 12-for-23 shooting and added 12 rebounds. He made five of 10 three-pointers and was 8-for-8 from the foul line. James’ All-Star teammate, Dwayne Wade, added 23 points and 10 rebounds and secured his third title with the Heat.
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James is all business in Game 7.
Shane Battier was the X-factor in the decisive game, scoring 18 off the bench and making six of eight 3-pointers. Mario Chalmers scored 14 while Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Mike Miller all failed to score.
“They played Hall of Fame basketball tonight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of James and Wade. “That’s some of the best basketball they both played at the same time throughout the entire playoffs from what I saw. When you have somebody like Shane come off the bench and knock it down the way he did, that’s tough to match. If you’re going to match that, you have to be pretty perfect. I didn’t think we played our best game in that regard.”
The Spurs never stopped fighting and hung in with Miami 48 hours after blowing a five-point lead in the final 28 seconds of Game 6. But they shot just 38% in Game 7, made only six three-pointers and never held a fourth-quarter lead.
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Chris Bosh reacts to a foul call.
Tim Duncan failed in his bid for a fifth championship despite scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard was terrific with 19 points and 16 rebounds, but Duncan’s two famous teammates, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, both struggled. Ginobili scored 18 points but had four turnovers in the final period, while Parker, defended most of the night by James, went 3-for-12 and finished with 10 points with four assists. He also failed to score in the second half.
Danny Green, the North Babylon, L.I. product and shooting star through the first five games, had a disastrous Game 7. He shot 1-for-12 and missed a potential game-tying three with four minutes left. Leonard missed a three in the final two minutes that would have given the Spurs a one-point lead. It was a bitter ending for a great franchise, especially since it very well could have been Duncan’s last and best shot at another title. At least the Spurs, who opened the game on an 11-4 run, made Miami earn it. The Spurs trailed, 46-44, at halftime and took a 57-56 lead when Green, after missing his first eight shots, hit a corner three.
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Manu Ginobili (c.) turns the ball over late on the Spurs last chance at a comeback.
But James answered with threes on Miami’s next two possessions before Leonard, who was keeping San Antonio in the game, made a difficult reverse layup as he was fouled and added the free throw. James hit two from the foul line, but Ginobili set up Boris Diaw for a three, and then, after James’ three rattled out, Duncan’s layup gave the Spurs a 65-64 lead.
San Antonio was leading until the final minute of the quarter when Battier hit a three and Chalmers banked in a three at the buzzer, giving the Heat a 72-71 edge. Battier opened the third with corner three and with the Spurs struggling to score, James’ jumper eventually extended the lead to 83-77.
The Spurs made one last run as Leonard’s three with two minutes left cut it to 90-88. Then, after Chalmers missed two free throws, Leonard misfired on an open three that would have given San Antonio the lead with 1:26 left.
The Spurs regained possession after Wade and Battier missed, but Duncan, guarded by Battier, couldn’t hit a runner and then missed a tap-in with 47 seconds left. Duncan slapped the floor in frustration, and after Erik Spoelstra called timeout, James hit a pullup 19-footer to make it a four-point game with 27.9 seconds left. James then stole Ginobili’s pass and sealed the game with two free throws with 23.5 seconds to play.
“He always rises to the occasion,” Spoelstra said, “when it matters the most. When the competition is fiercest.”