3. 2012 NBA Finals, Game 5
by David Ramil (@dramil13) — Hardwood Paroxysm
It had been a long, strange trip for the Miami Heat.
For two years, the team was largely viewed – outside of South Florida – as a collection of mercenaries, braggarts and traitors. The vitriol of July 2010 had just slightly dissipated, but only because Miami’s superstar trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were so damn good that, all loyalties aside, they were immensely enjoyable to watch.
Still, many cheered in 2011 when they got their alleged comeuppance in a Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. With the bad taste of that defeat still fresh for Miami’s players and fans, the ’11-’12 season – delayed by a player lockout that some theorize was in direct response to the Heat’s assemblage – began with renewed purpose. Although the 66-game season was a scheduling nightmare, Miami found themselves back in the Finals, facing a young, talented OKC Thunder team that some predicted might upset the Heat once again.
A Game 1 victory for Oklahoma City certainly fanned the flames of doubt.
But Miami bounced back admirably, winning the next four games behind some incredible performances from their superstar trio and their supporting cast, from Mike Miller to Shane Battier and even the much-maligned Mario Chalmers.
As the final seconds ticked away in Game 5, cameras picked up James, just months from having his jersey burned in effigy and having his image urinated on, hopping madly on the sidelines, a child-like smile spread wide across his face. He embraced teammates with unrestrained joy, finally justified in his Decision to join the Heat.
With the game over and the celebration in full-swing, the look on James’ face as he was handed the Larry O’Brien championship trophy is one I’ll never forget. For all the flak James and the Heat caught over the previous two years, this moment made it all worth it. It was, at least for me, the pinnacle of Miami’s short-lived “Big 3” era, perhaps the last truly happy moment this team shared together.
That’s hard to believe considering the success they continued to enjoy but, following Game 5, things were never the same. The team would go on to win 27-straight games and a franchise-best 66 regular-season wins, not to mention one of the most dramatic Finals in NBA history. But there was just a little less joy, a hint of just how much work it truly was to carry the team to such great heights, that diminished what they accomplished.
And when LeBron received his second-straight championship trophy, he did it with arms akimbo and a look that was not one of pure joy but rather a sense of entitlement. After winning his fourth MVP trophy and being at the peak of his powers, the smile was replaced by a smirk that seemed to say, Of course, I won this.
The following season, as many of the players later admitted, was nothing but a chore. Wade’s injuries caused friction in the locker room, as did the waiving of Miller’s onerous contract. Things seemed to fall apart when a midseason trade of Joel Anthony (the day after celebrating the previous title at the White House) was followed up by a vicious smack down by the Wizards.
James would carry the team to a fourth-straight Finals but it felt perfunctory…matter-of-fact, even. And, of course, he’d rejoin the Cavaliers just a few weeks later.
James is tough person to read; he plays it close to the vest, and you get the sense that every move he makes is a calculated one. But that was all stripped aside at the end of Game 5, perhaps as real and honest a feeling as one can possibly expect to see on a basketball court.
Next: 2. 1993 NBA Finals, Game 4