With James hot, Heat repeats as champ
MIAMI -- The San Antonio Spurs dared Miami Heat star LeBron James to beat them from outside -- and that's exactly what he did.
James' shooting prowess was the key to the Heat's win in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, resulting in Miami's second consecutive NBA championship -- and James' second consecutive Finals MVP honor.
The Heat pulled away in the last minute for a 95-88 victory over a valiant Spurs team.
James made 12 of 23 shots, including five of 10 3-pointers, and was perfect on eight free-throw attempts for a total of 37 points. He also had 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals and just two turnovers in 45 masterful minutes.
"I work on my game a lot," said James, interviewed on the AmericanAirlines Arena floor immediately after the game. "For the results to happen (like Thursday), it's the ultimate."
James, always a magnet for praise as well as criticism, was asked how he responds to the doubters.
"I can't worry what everybody says about me," he said. "I'm LeBron James from Akron, Ohio -- from the inner city. I'm not even supposed to be here. Every day when I walk into the locker room and I see a No. 6 jersey that says 'James,' I feel blessed."
The Heat was certainly blessed in the final minute.
With San Antonio down by two points and 45 seconds left, Tim Duncan missed a layup and a tip-in while being guarded by the smaller Shane Battier.
James then hit a 15-foot jumper to make it 92-88 with 28 seconds left.
A turnover by San Antonio's Manu Ginobili further sunk San Antonio, and the Heat cruised from there.
"LeBron was unbelievable," Duncan said. "(Dwyane) Wade was great. We stayed in the game and gave ourselves an opportunity, but we couldn't turn the corner."
It was the third NBA title overall for the Heat, who celebrated the franchise's 25th anniversary in grand fashion.
James wasn't the only Heat player who stepped up in Game 7. Wade, plagued by injuries to both knees at various points throughout the season, ignored the pain and provided 23 points and 10 rebounds. He made 11 of 21 shots.
Battier, who had been invisible for much of the playoffs, had a huge game with 18 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting.
"It's better to be timely than good," Battier said.
The contributions by Wade and Battier allowed the Heat to survive an off game by Chris Bosh (no points on 0-for-5 shooting, two turnovers, one block and seven rebounds).
The Spurs were led by Duncan (24 points, 12 rebounds), Kawhi Leonard (19 points, 16 rebounds) and Ginobili (18 points).
However, two San Antonio players who were big earlier in the Finals -- Tony Parker and Danny Green -- had disappointing games.
Parker scored just 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Green was held to five points on 1-of-12 shooting.
The Heat wound up with 82 wins this season, including 66 in the regular season. That total is fourth best in NBA history, with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls holding the record at 87. The Heat also had a 27-game winning streak this year, second best in league history.
But as dominant as the Heat were in the regular season, they alternated wins and losses for 12 straight games in the final two rounds of the playoffs -- until Thursday, when they finally won two in a row.
The Spurs could not overcome this key statistic: Home teams are now 15-3 in NBA Finals Game 7s.
Still, the Spurs hung tough.
It took a 30-foot, banked-in 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers to give the Heat a 72-71 lead after three quarters.
The Heat led 46-44 at halftime thanks in part to 14 points by Wade. That's as many as he scored in all of Game 6.
The Heat had just 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the opening quarter, trailing by as many as seven. However, when Duncan and Parker were rested simultaneously, the Heat closed the quarter on an 8-1 run and led 18-16.
In the end, though, it was just too much James.
Duncan admitted that James' jumpers were what the Spurs were willing to allow "to keep him away from the basket."
The plan ultimately did not work.
"That was the toughest series we've ever been in," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "As the series went on, (James) realized that was the shot he was going to get.
"LeBron is the best-conditioned athlete in this game. He was guarding Parker and Ginobili and whoever was their most dangerous threat at the time.
"He probably lost 12 to 15 pounds in this playoff run, expending so much energy. He was phenomenal."
NOTES: Spurs G Gary Neal banked in a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Battier hit one like that for the Heat in Game 6. ... Heat G Ray Allen played his 11th Game 7, breaking the NBA record previously held by Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. He finished scoreless in 20 minutes Thursday after providing a clutch 3-pointer in the final seconds of Game 6, forcing overtime. ... Wade, who collided with Ginobili in Game 6, said he woke up Wednesday with a stiff and swollen left knee. He also has struggled with an ailing right knee for most of the postseason. ... Thursday was the 18th Game 7 of an NBA Finals and just the sixth since 1978. It was also just the second time that a Miami pro team hosted a Game 7 for a championship. The then-Florida Marlins beat the Cleveland Indians in the finale to win the 1997 World Series. ... The Spurs had played in one previous NBA Finals Game 7, beating the Detroit Pistons in 2005. ... James has four triple-doubles in NBA Finals games, the second-best total in league history, trailing only Magic Johnson's eight. ... Miami F Udonis Haslem did not play in Game 6 due to Spoelstra's decision, the first time that happened all season. On Thursday, Haslem entered the game in the second quarter, but he played just two minutes on the night and didn't score.