Miami Heat back-to-back NBA champs
MANILA, Philippines – The Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night (US time) in game 7 of the NBA finals for their second straight championship.
LeBron James shone on the biggest stage anew, shredding the San Antonio defense for 37 points, including five 3-pointers, and grabbing 12 rebounds, as he led the Heat to a 95-88 win for the third NBA title in franchise history.
Dwyane Wade added 23 points and 10 rebounds and Shane Battier came off the bench to score 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc for the Heat, who became the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
James made 5 of 10 3-point attempts, all the while hounding Spurs star Tony Parker on defense.
Tim Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs, who were trying to become the first road team to win a finals Game 7 since Washington in 1978. Kawhi Leonard added 19 points and 16 rebounds.
Parker had 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting and four assists, and Manu Ginobili scored 18 points for San Antonio, which lost for the first time in five finals appearances.
The Heat led just 72-71 going into the fourth quarter but edged that out to an eight-point lead with 7:30 to play.
The Spurs missed seven of their first 10 shots and turned the ball over five times in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter.
Duncan’s turnover led to Battier’s sixth 3-pointer, a corner dagger that gave Miami an 88-82 lead with 3:21 to go. The delirious Heat crowd leapt to its feet, and they didn’t sit down for the rest of a thrilling finish.
The Spurs were not done with, and Leonard’s 3 made it 90-88. Tim Duncan had an opportunity to tie the scores but missed a simple putback, and James knocked down a 19-foot jumper with 27.9 seconds to go, effectively sealing the victory.
San Antonio’s Danny Green, for five games the favorite for finals MVP thanks to his record-setting 3-point shooting, missed his first eight shots and finished with five points on 1-for-12 shooting, while Game 6 hero Ray Allen was 0 for 4 with three turnovers for Miami.
The Heat have been to three straight finals, just like they envisioned when Pat Riley brought James, Wade and Bosh together three summers ago. But it’s been anything but easy for the NBA’s latest super team. They lost to Dallas in 2010, suffering the final defeat in Game 6 on their home floor, then rebounded to steamroll the Oklahoma City Thunder last season.
This regular season was shaping up as a coronation more than a competition, with the Heat rattling off 66 victories, including a staggering 27 in a row. They entered the playoffs with an air of invincibility, but were pushed as hard as they’ve ever been.
In the proud Spurs, they faced an aging core that simply wouldn’t give in, which had to make this victory their most satisfying yet.
The Heat were all but eliminated in Game 6, down 13 points at the start of the fourth quarter and five with 21 seconds to play but somehow they managed to force overtime and win it to keep their back-to-back hopes alive.
“It’s like you have a second chance on life,” Bosh said. “You’re not going to waste it. We were revived. We were dead. We brought ourselves back to life.”
The Heat made the most of the kind of second chance that the Spurs have so rarely given over the years. James found the perimeter shooting that had been lacking for most of the series, hitting consecutive 3s in the third quarter to get Miami going after a ragged start.
The reigning MVP also locked down Parker, the focal point of the Spurs offense, forcing him to give the ball up earlier in the shot clock than he wanted.
Had the Heat lost, James would have fallen to 1-3 in the NBA’s championship rounds, and his legion of critics would have been banging on his door with more “He’s no Jordan” vitriol.
Instead, James delivered with the clutch performances that have now become the norm for him.
He rescued the Heat in Game 6, scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter, then he followed that up with a sterling Game 7.
James missed four of his first six shots, but started to find a rhythm late in the second quarter. He converted a three-point play on an acrobatic drive to the rim and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 33-27 lead, bringing the white-clad home crowd to their feet.
Duncan just wouldn’t let the Spurs fade. The 37-year-old had a three-point play, four free throws and another layup that tied the game at 40 and Ginobili’s two free throws gave the Spurs the lead again at 42-40.
He scored 10 straight point in the third quarter to keep the Heat in it, hitting consecutive 3-pointers.
It was a heart-breaking way to end it for these Spurs, who were 21 seconds from title No. 5 when everything went wrong in Game 6. Now, once again, they will face proclamations of their demise. Only this time, it may be harder to hold those off.
Duncan is 37, but coming off an All-NBA First Team season and a vintage performance in the finals. The 31-year-old Parker is nearing his apex after one of his finest seasons. But Ginobili will turn 36 next month and will be a free agent, perhaps marking the end of the three-person core that helped put the Alamo City on the NBA map, and keep it there for 10 years.
Back in 2007, when the Spurs swept James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the franchise’s fourth title, Duncan found the young superstar for a quiet moment to tell him that the league would one day be his.
Now James has four MVPs, two Olympic golds and back-to-back titles on his resume. Duncan has been right so many times throughout his career. This time, it’s at his own expense.
It was the first loss for the Spurs in the best-of-seven championship final. With AFP, AP
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