LeBron James takes ownership of his legacy as the Heat defeat Spurs 95-88 to repeat as NBA Champions
(Steve Mitchell/USA Today)
The once cloudy legacy of LeBron James is coming into clearer focus with the shine of his second world title.
Unable to place his fate in the hands of his teammates, LeBron James took control in the second half of Game 7 scoring 22 points. James scored a game-high 37 points as the Miami Heat held off the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 to win their second consecutive NBA Championship.
Heat 95 – Spurs 88 - The comparisons to Michael Jordan and anyone else can now cease. LeBron James is his own man, his own player and now his own brand of champion. For a decade, we’ve gone back and forth about who is James’ next of basketball kin. After watching the back to back NBA MVP, please believe James is his own special fruit. For 45 gut-check minutes, LeBron James forged his legend in the NBA Finals with the precision of a blacksmith. If Games 1-6 were spent hammering and molding his sword, Game 7 was where James unsheathed his Excalibur to slay critics, haters and the noble San Antonio Spurs.
The Miami Heat survived zero points from Chris Bosh, but received a huge boost from veteran Shane Battier. The 12-year veteran was 6 for 8 from three point range, scoring 18 points in 28+ minutes. Battier was a thorn in the Spurs side as his baskets negated several rallies. For the second consecutive game, Mario Chalmers was an effective third wheel among Miami’s starters. Chalmers — who now has two NBA Championships to go with an NCAA title — scored 14 points. Including a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter to give Miami a 72-71 lead.
Dwyane Wade battled his ego and won. Wade acknowledged at times it’s still tough stepping aside for James, but when confetti and champagne showers are the reward, who can argue? Wade’s ailing knees held up for one more night — allowing the now three-time world champion to score 23 points and 10 rebounds in nearly 39 minutes. When Miami came up short during their title run, the short-term goat was Wade and his battered body. In Games 6 and 7, Wade was 17 of 36, scoring 37 points and adding 14 rebounds — while averaging 37 minutes per contest.
There’s no shame in being Tim Duncan today, Duncan cemented his legacy as the greatest power forward ever with another huge performance. Unfortunately, it was a potentially game-tying miss by Duncan which opened the door for the Heat to close the game out. The question heading into Game 7 was what would Duncan and his teammates have left after coming so close to ending the series in Game 6 — not to mention running on a days rest. Sadly for the Spurs, only Duncan and Kawhi Leonard had an answer. For the entire series, Duncan took Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen into his personal torture chamber. Spin moves, jump hooks, bank shots and flushes in the paint was what Duncan gave us. It was painful to watch Duncan agonize over that missed jump hook — he deserved that shot. Regardless of what Duncan does in the off-season, his final shot in Game 7 will not be my lasting image of him.
In the last two games, Tony Parker shot 9 for 35 (26%) scoring only 29 points and 12 assists. In game 7, Parker was taken completely out of the Spurs game plan, being limited to 10 points and 4 assists in 36 minutes of action. The difference in superstars LeBron James and Parker is James would have faced unprecedented backlash for a similar performance in a close-out game — where Parker will walk away unscathed by the masses.
For three quarters Manu Ginobili put his horrific Game 6 performance behind him as the Spurs were in good shape and he was in the thick of the fight. The former Sixth Man of the Year completely fell apart in the last seven minutes of regulation. Ginobili shot 2 for 5, but his four turnovers in the quarter killed San Antonio’s momentum. Ginobili finished with 18 points, but he was swallowed up in the memories of Game 6.
To say the future of second-year forward Kawhi Leonard is bright is an understatement. Not only did the 21-year old have the task of trying to slow down LeBron James, he didn’t allow it to affect his offensive output. Leonard posted 19 points and 16 boards, playing an equal amount of minutes as James. For the series Leonard averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and 2 steals, he also shot 51 percent from the field. Rest assured Kawhi Leonard is smack in the middle of the Spurs rebuilding process. The same can be said for Danny Green and Gary Neal — who suffered through off nights.
At 28 LeBron James the NBA universe is his oyster. If last year’s title was a coronation, this season’s effort was his assertion of power. In a calendar year, James has an Olympic Gold Medal sandwiched between 2 NBA MVPs, 2 NBA Championships and 2 NBA Finals MVPs — something I don’t believe has ever been done in the modern era. Throw in a 27-game winning streak and no consecutive losses since January and you wonder where this young man gets the energy to perform at a superhuman level night in and night out.
Champions don’t rely on teammates to pick them up, they bring them along. The Heat seesawed 12 of their last 13 games and if the odds played out, James was going to be a three-time loser in the NBA Finals. James scored 22 of the Heat’s 49 second half points, he was the only player to score in double figures. He also added 9 rebounds and 3 assists in the decisive 24 minutes.
Those are full game stats, but this was someone playing for so much more. James was able to beat back critics and lingering haters from his decision, hopefully forever. A good part of the hatred comes from people constantly raising the bar. Like Chamberlain and Jordan, James is now the bar. Because of the scrutiny, I don’t believe we’ll ever get to know James the way knew other superstars and I’m okay with that. Listening to him last night told all I needed to know from here on out.
He’s LeBron James from Akron, Ohio and he has no worries.
Heat win series 4-3