On the biggest stage that the NBA has to offer, the game’s best player rose to the occasion like few have ever done.
Lebron James converted jump shot after jump shot for the entirety of the second half, culminating in the finishing blow on a 19-foot jumper with 27 seconds remaining that all but put away the San Antonio Spurs. James’ dagger gave the Heat a 92-88 lead, and after a foul-shooting contest, the Miami Heat emerged from the wreckage of a phenomenal Game 7 with a 95-88 victory.
“The King” played his best game of the seven-game epic, finishing with 37 points (on 12 for 23 shooting), 12 rebounds, and 4 assists, but it was his aforementioned outside shooting that set his game apart. James shot a blistering 5 for 10 from beyond the three-point arc, and in addition to his prowess from deep, he converted all 8 of his free throw attempts to go along with a stellar mid-range effort.
In addition to the heroics of James, the Heat supporting cast wasn’t always balanced, but two players stood apart with big-time efforts. Shane Battier came back from the dead (almost literally) with a three-point explosion. Battier shot 6-for-8 from downtown for all 18 of his points, and in his 29 minutes, he made countless momentum-shifting buckets. The Heat’s “other” superstar, Dwyane Wade, played a special game as well, showing spectacular effort level on both ends (with 10 rebounds to show for it), as well as 23 points on 11 for 21 from the field.
For the Spurs, any loss in Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be gutting, but the way in which the game slipped away made the blow even more severe. Legendary power forward Tim Duncan missed a point blank, two-foot shot with 48 seconds to go that would have tied the game at 90-90. After that, the Spurs offense ground to a halt, and when James’ jumper went through the rim to extend the lead to 4, it was all but over.
It wasn’t all negative for the Spurs, as they received tremendous efforts from some of their top-flight players. Duncan’s 24-point, 12-rebound, 4-steal performance would’ve likely provided him with the Finals MVP should the Spurs have won the title, and he was tremendous for the great majority of the night. His late miss will garner the majority of the headlines (as those “big-time” plays are accustomed to do), but his overall brilliance shined through the majority of the game and series.
In addition to Duncan, Kawhi Leonard had his national coming out party throughout the Finals, and Game 7 was no different. The 21-year-old small forward finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds while playing high-end defense on Lebron James throughout. Tony Parker (3 of 12) and Danny Green (1 of 12) struggled mightily in the game, but Green’s showing in the Finals was legendary (prior to Game 7), and Parker was visibly injured and exhausted while dealing with the uber-athletic James on the offensive end.
The victory for the Heat was tremendous for many reasons, but the way in which they won the game despite the absence of Chris Bosh was startling. The third member of the “Big Three” finished Game 7 scoreless, going 0 for 5 from the field, and grabbed just 7 rebounds while being out-gunned by Tim Duncan throughout the game. However, Bosh’s absence (and the shooting outage from Mike Miller) were overshadowed by the greatness of James, Wade, and Battier, and the Heat were able to skate along without his production.
Game 7 is an unusual animal, and Thursday’s game was no different. The level of nerves was visible for both teams, and, as a result, the quality of play was suspect at times. San Antonio shot under 38% from the field, committed 14 turnovers, and committed 19 fouls, but it was the sloppiness of the simplest plays (i.e. hand-offs and passes) that defined the game to a point. The Heat weren’t immune to the sloppy play either, as the champs committed 16 turnovers of their own, and also struggled to a 11 for 16 day from the free throw line.
Fortunately, the Heat had the benefit of the services of Lebron James.
It was the perfect ending the best season of James’ career, as he silenced critics who questioned his ability to rise to the occasion on the biggest stage. There is a legitimate argument to be made that his put-away jumper in the final minute was the biggest single shot of his career, and he answered every bell in the second half while leading his team to the promised land. There will certainly be questions of “legacy” and “impact” as the spotlight shifts from the court to the podium, but one thing is for certain.
Lebron James and the Miami Heat are the 2013 NBA Champions.