NBA Finals Most Valuable Player LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier did the heavy lifting for the Miami Heat Thursday night in defeating the San Antonio Spurs in the seventh and deciding game, 95-88, to win their second consecutive NBA title at Miami’s American Airlines Arena. They are the first team to win back-to-back championships since the 2009-2010 Los Angeles Lakers.
On a night where Chris Bosh, the third leg of Miami’s stool, was practically invisible (0 points and five personal fouls in 28 minutes), reserve specialist Battier charged in to prop up the Heat with 18 points on 6 shots from behind the three-point arc, which all seemed to come at times that San Antonio was poised to make a scoring run. He strongly complemented James’ 37 points, including 5 three-pointers (as well as 12 rebounds), and Wade’s 23 points and 10 boards. The Heat’s Mario Chalmers also hit double-figures with 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
The Spurs got four players into double-digit scoring, led by Tim Duncan’s double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds; Kawhi Leonard’s 19 points and mammoth 16 boards, and Manu Ginobili’s 18 points (including 2 threes). But this was offset by mediocre play from Tony Parker, who was only 3-of-12 from the field (10 points) and Danny Green, who notched a meager 5 points in 36 minutes, while going 1-of-6 from behind the arc and only 1-of-12 overall from the floor. And even with Ginobili’s point total, he still turned the ball over four times and committed four personal fouls. In total, San Antonio gave up 20 points off of their 15 collective turnovers.
The first quarter started out tentatively, with the teams seemingly feeling each other out while missing much more than they were scoring (the Heat shot only 36.8 percent from the floor during the first period while the Spurs hit only 31.8 percent). At the end of the first 12 minutes, the tally was only 18-16 in favor of Miami. But the pace was quickly picked up in the second and third quarters, with Miami’s lead in only the low single-digits until the last four minutes of the fourth quarter, when James, Wade and Battier started to string together some scores while getting stops against the Spurs.
Following the final 10 ticks of the clock in the fourth quarter, there was spontaneous embracing among the teams and their coaches. San Antonio’s head coach Gregg Popovich embodied the obvious respect these squads have for each other by hugging both James and Wade. Popovich said afterward that they both played “Hall of Fame” basketball during that last game, and that Battier’s shooting was “tough to match”. “Coach Pop” was also highly complimentary of his own vanquished team: “I think they gave everything. They showed a lot of poise and mental toughness … I don’t think we played very well, but we gave it everything we had.” And when asked to explain their defeat, he added, “We just lost to a better team.”
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, while expressing great respect for the Spurs at a post-game press conference, asserted that "this is the toughest series we've ever been in." In praising James, who also called this the hardest series he'd ever been a part of, Spoelstra said, "We all know his work ethic - it's probably unique for a guy who's been the best in the game since he was in 7th grade."
James, sitting with ABC’s commentators after the game, put his recent successes into perspective: “I can’t worry about what everybody says about me. I’m LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a number 6 with James on the back; I’m blessed.” But arguably the highest and most surprising praise of the night came from former Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, himself one of the greatest NBA stars in history, who looked directly at James and remarked, “LeBron James, you are the greatest player ever.”