MIAMI – David Stern never met an NBA Finals he didn’t absolutely love, but as he presided over the final game of his last championship series on Thursday night, he really had to enjoy Miami-San Antonio as much as any series during his reign.
You can’t beat a Game 7 and that’s what Stern had going for him and his league, a fitting ending to a series when neither team could put together back-to-back wins in the first six games.
You had brilliant play in Game 6 from LeBron James, along with some bad play earlier in the series from the best basketball player in the world. You had some big moments from the other player with at least two MVP’s in this series, Tim Duncan, in what is probably going to be his last hurrah in a Finals, as he winds down his Hall of Fame career.
You had highlight plays and games from two of the league’s top international players, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Parker’s Globetrotter dribbling act and circus shot after eluding James to seal San Antonio’s win in the opener will live on in history as one of the more dramatic plays in a championship series. Ginobili’s remarkable performance in Game 5, when he was inserted into the starting lineup after doing nothing in the series until then, will long be remembered, as well.
The Finals gave us the surprise emergence and record-setting, three-point shooting of Danny Green, along with a vintage, last-second shot by one of the greatest long-distance shooters of all time, Ray Allen.
Then you had Game 6, one of the very best that Stern has overseen in his 30 years of running the show. The only way it could have been better was if it had been Game 7 and if the season and Stern’s last Finals ended with that all-timer.
To have the Spurs throw away a game when the Larry O’Brien Trophy was already being moved into position, across from the Heat bench, was about as good as it gets, just from a sheer theatrical standpoint.
“I know that game will go down as one of the best Finals games that’s been seen,” said Miami’s Dwyane Wade, who was looking to add a third ring to his Hall of Fame resume on Thursday night. “But I also think this series will go down as being one of the most competitive, bizzare series that’s been seen. This is what you pay for to watch. You pay to watch two great teams battle to the very, very end.”
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It’s all or nothing for LeBron James and Tim Duncan in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
How great? Neither is going to go down as one of the very best in history.
They’re both flawed. With a win in Game 7, the Heat would have the edge, of course. It also has James, who was playing in his first-ever Finals Game 7. He in his prime, having won his fourth MVP award this past season in the last five years, and led Miami to the second-longest winning streak of all-time, 27 games.
But a lot of other teams have also won 66 games in the regular-season, as Miami did, and it’s not as if the Heat has just rolled through the post-season. Going into Game 7, it was 14-7 in the playoffs and this was its second consecutive seven-game series.
Whether you’re talking about the 1986 Celtics or the 1996 Bulls or any of the other all-time teams, they usually marched unimpeded to the title. Larry Bird’s ’86 Celtics suffered all of three post-season defeats after a 67-win regular-season. Ten years later, Michael Jordan’s Bulls set the regular-season mark with 72 wins and had only three losses in the playoffs, as well.
While the Heat had a chance to secure its second straight title,usually is a mark of a superior team, it never had a series lead in the first six games of the Finals.
“Hasn’t been many people to win back-to-back championships, and it’s so hard,” James said beforehand. “It’s the hardest thing. I said last year it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, winning my first. Last year don’t even come close to what we’ve gone through in this post-season and these Finals.”
The Spurs actually had a better playoff record than Miami entering Game 7, winning 15 of 20 games. By all rights, they should have walked out of Miami with a 16-4 mark and the best of all their championships after Game 6. But they didn’t close it out in suffering one of the all-time collapses in Finals history.
But it also led to Game 7. As David Stern will tell you, you can never argue with one of those.