LeBron James sized up his man time and time again in the familiar stare down of a master trying to figure out the best way to attack. All series it has been pull-up jumpers to the frustration of the Heat in the three losses. James has at times not looked like LeBron James in this series. Jumper after jumper seemed to clang off the rim and ignite San Antonio's confidence.
With James on the floor though, it always seems like the other team is playing catch up. It seems like they are just biding time before the moment James turns on the jets and becomes that all-time great master that he is.
At long last the jumpers started falling for James. The Spurs defense tried to isolate him and make him a one-man show. It worked to keep them in the game. But the plays were not there to pull out the win. Turnovers from Manu Ginobili down the stretch and a missed tip in from Tim Duncan in the dying moments gave the Heat the cushion necessary to hold on for a 95-88 win in a classic Game Seven to give the Heat their second straight championship.
The game was the kind of back-and-forth affair NBA fans would want with the lead never extending into double digits and with the Spurs making shots at just about every turn to keep the game close. Until they ran out of time. As all good series do. It had to come to an end.
The late turnovers and the missed opportunities caught up to San Antonio as the clock wound down.
For James? He had his final exclamation point (probably not) for those that continue to doubt him. He scored 37 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in an MVP-quality performance that did get him the Bill Russell Trophy as the Finals MVP. James hit 12 of his 23 shots and 5 of his 10 3-point attempts.
To this point in the series, James had shot 43.3 percent from the floor and 29.2 percent from beyond the arc with just seven makes. San Antonio was playing the numbers in laying off James and letting him shoot jumpers rather than attack the paint and get others involved. The Spurs did the same with Dwyane Wade.
It just backfired this time. James only had four assists and the ball did indeed get stuck. But he hit those mid-range jumpers early and late and had confidence throughout. A jump-shooting LeBron James gives the opponent the best chance to win. But sometimes James, being the great player he is, just hits them.
This was not his Game Six performance against the Celtics in 2012, but it was a throw-your-hands-in-the-air and curse-the-gods moment for the Spurs. They stayed disciplined enough to stick with the plan even with James hitting jumper after jumper.
Wade added 23 points on 11-for-21 shooting. Shane Battier found his shooting stroke too to provide a key assist to Wade and James' offensive mastery. Battier hit six of his eight 3-pointers for 18 points.
Surprisingly too it was offensive rebounding that helped the Heat. With their backs against the wall, the Heat played with a hunger that has been missing int heir disappointing games during this Playoffs. The Heat grabbed 11 offensive rebounds. That is not a huge number but it was an important one for the Heat and their constant struggle on the glass.
Each second opportunity was an opportunity lost for the Spurs. In this game, it seemed like they needed every one. And still were seemingly one opportunity short.
Tim Duncan again gave it his all with 24 points and 12 rebounds. That missed tip-in though late in the fourth quarter will linger the most in his memory. Duncan experienced his first Finals loss and in a key moment it rested on his shoulders. The typically stoic Duncan let out some expression of frustration for this miscue.
There was really not much more the NBA great could do though.
Manu Ginobili was interchanging good plays — 18 points, five assists — for bad ones — four turnovers including two in the latter stages of the fourth quarter. Tony Parker struggled with 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting. Danny Green missed 11 of his 12 shots.
There was enough help to keep the game interesting. But not enough when the game finally began to matter. The balanced scoring approach would have worked almost any other night.
Just not on a night when James was playing at an other worldly rate. And to win a championship in a Game Seven as competitive as this one became, an other worldly performance was what was needed.
The Heat got it this evening. If they played this series out another seven games it might go 4-3 the other way. The series has to end at some point though. And Miami came out on top to win that second championship and begin to cement their legacy.