The Heat began Game 5 last night in a patient fashion. But after trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder with just under five minutes remaining in the first period, Miami began pulling away in what would eventually amount to a 121-106 rout to win its second NBA title since the 2005-2006 season, four games to one.
It was also the first championship for the Heat’s “Big Three” assemblage of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh since they joined forces in July of 2010. The Heat, leading the Thunder for most of the way, expanded a 59-49 halftime lead to 24 points by the end of the third (it was as many as 26 in one instance).
Asked following the game by ESPN’s Stuart Scott what the most hurtful comment made about him by the news media had been since his mediocre Finals appearance last season, James was thoughtful and then replied being called “selfish.” In light of his 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds last night, it would appear that unfortunate characterization was a bit misplaced.
The Heat posted an overwhelmingly dominant offensive performance, and particularly from the three-point arc, where they went 14 of 26 for a mammoth 54% shooting percentage. By contrast, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, who scored a team-high 43 points in Game 4, could only hit 4 of 20 shots from the field (he wound up with 19 points on the night), though teammate James Harden rebounded from a miserable eight points in the last game to score 19 last night.
But even with Kevin Durant, Westbrook and Harden combining for 70 points, they just couldn’t keep pace with the Heat, who aside from their 3-point percentage, were hitting on all cylinders in hitting 52 percent of their field goals and 82% of their foul shots. In fact, Miami had already crossed the “century mark” less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
James, Wade and Bosh were pulled with 3:01 remaining, and immediately began a jubilant court side celebration. It was vindication for James, who was all but pilloried after last season’s Finals debacle against the Dallas Mavericks for wilting in the key closing moments of those games. James obviously was determined to put the criticisms to rest, and as recipient of the Bill Russell trophy for the Finals series Most Valuable Player, effectively silencing his critics. Scoring 29 points per game during the series (with an average of 18 of those in the paint), including a gutty performance in the closing minutes of Game 4, James demonstrated that he has not only the ability, but the mental toughness to win when it counts.
Overall, it was a thorough team effort from Miami. Bosh finished with 24 points and Wade added 20. Also coming up big in reserve was Mike Miller, who bagged seven 3-pointers en route to 23 points on the night. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, normally stoical and pensive on the sidelines, flashed an uncharacteristically big smile while sporting a turned-around championship ball cap. Not only did Spoelstra achieve his first championship at Miami since serving as an assistant to then-head coach Pat Riley during 2005-6; he tied Riley last night for the Heat franchise record with 34 post-season wins.
Scoring the first “triple-double” in a series-clinching game since the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan during the 2003 championship - he was one rebound away from doing the same in Game 4 - James put the versatility of his athleticism on full display and was the undisputed leader of this Heat squad. This should be particularly gratifying in light of the fact that in a gaudy, pyrotechnic press conference two years ago, James and Wade had asserted they would bring multiple titles back to South Beach.
Perhaps it was the excitement of the moment, but nevertheless, from that point, the Heat put unnecessary pressure on themselves to deliver. With last night’s shower of confetti blanketing the floor of American Airlines Arena, James and his teammates have taken a huge step toward assuaging that pressure.
The Thunder players were gracious in defeat—and though Durant was quoted afterward as saying “It hurts, man”—the Finals opponents engaged in extended hugs as the clock ran out and the respect they hold for each other was readily apparent in post-game comments. Oklahoma City, though they will have contract negotiations to consider with both Serge Ibaka and Harden in the off-season, has youth and athleticism on their side, and that’s a powerful combination.