The Miami Heat got the repeat and LeBron James is the undeniable king of the court.
Like it or not, the Heat, established in 2010 to pile on titles, have played for one in each of their three seasons together and they’ve won the last two. It hasn’t been a cakewalk. They’ve been tested along the way and even they acknowledge that their 2013 foe, the San Antonio Spurs, afforded the Heat new life when they couldn’t close out Game 6. For the immortal Tim Duncan, coach Gregg Popovich, the rest of the Spurs and their legion of die-hard fans in South Texas, 94-89 with 28 ticks to the title will be tough to reconcile.
But give the Heat their due. Dwyane Wade put his bad wheel behind him and came to play. Shane Battier brushed off a brutal first five games with two high-impact performances, going 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. His 6-for-8 night in Game 7, making his first five, offset a strange scoreless game for Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Mike Miller.
And finally, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, 42 years old, has earned two championships. He made an adjustment to his starting lineup, sat Battier along the way, benched veteran Heat stalwart Udonis Haslem as well as Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who was so integral in the East finals. He used James to defend Tony Parker at just the right times and ultimately Spoelstra matched the wily Popovich step-for-step through seven wild games.
For one last time, here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong in one of the most riveting NBA Finals in years.
Right: LeBron’s fourth Finals started slowly with 18, 17 and 15 points in the first three games, and again the criticism came hot and heavy: Not assertive enough; needs to score more; no killer instinct. Wrong, wrong and wrong. He scored no fewer than 25 in the next four games and at least 32 in three. His Games 6 and 7 totals: 69 points, 22 rebounds, 15 assists and five steals. Yes, his two turnovers at the end of a brilliant fourth quarter in Game 6 looked to be the start of a long summer of LeBron bashing, but his 3-pointer helped to save the day as the Spurs collapsed in those final 28 seconds. He was sensational in Game 7 with 37 points — that included five 3-pointers as the Spurs dared him to shoot it — and 12 rebounds. The four-time regular-season MVP deserved his second Finals MVP averaging 25.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg and 7.9 apg.
Wrong: Duncan waited six grueling years to get back to the Finals for a shot at a fifth championship. He had never before swallowed defeat and the bitter taste of this loss will linger. Game 6 will burn for a long time, but so will the short running hook he missed with 48.9 seconds left with a chance to tie the game, and the ensuing tip that wouldn’t go. Back at the defensive end, Duncan slapped the floor in disgust and moments later James drilled an open jumper to make it 92-88 Heat with 27.9 seconds to go. He wouldn’t get another shot opportunity. At 37, Duncan had a phenomenal season and a terrific playoffs. His 30 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6 should have been enough to seal the deal and his 24 points, 12 rebounds and four steals in Game 7 proved he has plenty left to go for it again.
Right: Bad knee and all, Wade left the drama behind and just balled. In the final three games, Wade put up two double-doubles with 25 points and 10 assists in Game 5 and 23 points and 10 rebounds in Game 7 that included a critical first-half onslaught of 14 points and six rebounds.
Wrong: Wade’s counterpart, Manu Ginobili, had his one shining moment in Game 5, but otherwise struggled through a regrettable Finals and postseason. Not that he didn’t put it all out there because Ginobili knows no other way to play. He battled through the good and bad in Game 7 to post 18 points and five assists, but he had four more turnovers to give him 12 in the last two games. All four came in the final quarter and the last one, a wild drive ending in an errant pass with 23.8 seconds to go ended all hope.
Right: Popovich hasn’t been shy about tabbing second-year forward Kawhi Leonard as the future face of the Spurs franchise, and now the world knows why. Leonard, who valiantly took on the unenviable task of guarding James, was everywhere in Games 6 and 7, amassing 41 points, 17 rebounds and four steals. He missed a crucial free throw late in Game 6, but the San Diego State product’s future is extremely bright. As Popovich said after Game 7: “Leonard is a star in the making.”
Wrong: Tony Parker and Danny Green suffered unthinkable free-falls that the Spurs ultimately could not overcome. Parker didn’t use the Grade 1 strain of his hamstring as an excuse and he really couldn’t because he went 10-for-14 from the floor for 26 points in Game 5. But in Games 6 and 7, Parker went 9-for-35, including 6-for-23 in Game 7. In the Spurs’ four losses, Parker shot 32.3 percent (21-for-65). Green was having a storybook Finals, knocking down 25-for-38 from 3-point range through the first five games. He set a new Finals record for most 3-pointers made and he was shooting for the record for most 3s in any playoff series. But the well dried up as the Heat applied great pressure. Green went 2-for-11 from beyond the arc in the final two games. In the first five games he made three, four, five, six and seven 3-pointers. In the last two, he made one in each. After three games he was the leading scorer in the Finals and through five games he had scored no fewer than 10 points. In Games 6 and 7 he scored eight combined.
Right: Mario Chalmers doesn’t always get the job done, which is why Spoelstra occasionally benched the point guard, but the Heat aren’t celebrating today without his gutsy play in Games 6 and 7. Chalmers totaled 13 points on 4-for-19 shooting and 25.3 mpg in the middle three games in San Antonio. In the final two games he totaled 34 points on 13-for-26 shooting and 41.5 mpg while outplaying Parker. He proved especially crucial in Game 6 with 20 points that included 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Wrong: Popovich has earned the respect he receives, but it doesn’t mean he’s beyond reproach. He made strategic decisions late in Games 6 and 7 that didn’t work out and Popovich should explain those moves when asked. That’s how this business works. Late in both games, Popovich put the ball in the hands of the turnover-prone Ginobili instead of Parker, who was taken out of the game for a late possession in Game 6 and was sitting on the bench in Game 7 with 27.9 seconds to go and the Spurs with the ball trailing by four. Ginobili drove, got caught in the air under the basket and tossed an awful pass that was easily intercepted by James. It was Ginobili’s fourth turnover of the fourth quarter. Parker, who was having a rough night shooting, no doubt, is typically quite secure with the ball and had two turnovers all game. After the game, Popovich was asked by a San Antonio reporter why Parker was not in the game: “Because that’s what I decided to do,” Popovich answered. The reporter followed up: “Can you elaborate on that?” Popovich said: “No.” It seems Spurs fans have the right to understand why their All-Star point guard was sitting at the most critical juncture of the season. Even if the coach has earned the benefit of the doubt.