MIAMI — LeBron James has never wanted them, anyway.
After Thursday, there was no choice but to lump them together.
James had 37 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Miami Heat to a 95-88 victory against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The Heat won the series 4-3, marking the 22nd time a team has won back-to-back titles.
James became the first to win Finals MVP and the regular season award in consecutive seasons since Jordan from 1990-92. His jumper with 27.9 seconds left made it a four-point game to clinch it for the Heat. Guard Dwyane Wade finished with 23 points while reserve Shane Battier added 18, all coming on his 6 3-pointers.
For James, it was somewhat of redemption.
He lost to the Spurs in the 2007 Finals when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Six years later, he is now a two-time champion.
But this one didn’t come easy.
The Heat had to rally from a 3-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series to deny the Spurs their fifth title since 1999. It was only the eighth time in league history a team won the final two of a seven-game series.
When things looked bleak, inspiration came from no one other than the man sitting in the upstairs office. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he spoke a few days ago with team president Pat Riley, who was in a similar situation when he was coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988. The Lakers won the final two games on their home floor to defeat the Detroit Pistons for a second straight title.
“Pat and I always talk,” Spoelstra said. “…The Lakers had to storm from behind. I love hearing the stories.”
It’s not as if the Heat needed the pep talk.
They had grown comfortable throughout the season to playing from behind. Desperation was their greatest ally, as it showed in the conference finals against the Indiana Pacers. Most felt the Heat responded the best when there was drama involved.
“It’s a part of the game, to be in a situation like this,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “The only way you know how good you can be is if you’ve been through it before and obviously we have … We know what kind of character guys we have.”
That character was tested when the Spurs pulled to within 77-75 on a short jumper by Tim Duncan with 8 minutes, 37 seconds left in the game. That set the stage for a five-minute stretch of back-and-forth basketball. After James found Shane Battier in the corner for a 3-pointer that made it 88-82 with 3:19 left, the Spurs responded with a 3-point play by Duncan.
Duncan finished with a team-high 24 points, but it wasn’t enough. The Spurs could no closer than 90-88 on Kawhi Leonard‘s 3-pointer at the 2-minute mark. The Heat were the beneficiary of a little luck when Leonard missed an open 3-pointer that would have given San Antonio the lead.
Duncan then missed a pair of shots near the rim before the Heat grabbed the rebound. That set the stage for James’ clinching shot near the elbow. Just to be safe, he then stole the Spurs’ inbound pass and sank two more free throws.
In defeating one of the league’s top dynasties, the Heat are perhaps poised to start one of their own.
They are expected now to have somewhat of a quiet offseason. A loss surely would have created outside discussions about the possible breakup of Chris Bosh, Wade and James. Even with three straight appearances in the Finals, Spoelstra’s job might have also been in question.
Now, they can have smooth summer just like last year when the talk was all about improving the team instead of dismantling.
“This legacy stuff and the (Big Three) era, we leave that all to the barber-shop talkers and the sports critics,” Bosh said.