Friday, July 19, 2013

J-Speaks: Miami Heat Win Game 7 to Clinch Back-To-Back Titles

Back on June 28 with a little under 30 seconds remaining, the defending National Basketball Association (NBA) Champion Miami Heat were in a five-point hole to the Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs and on the verge of giving up their place at the top of the NBA mountain. Thanks to the Spurs inability to make free throws and the Heat nailing a couple of three-pointers in those closing moments the Heat managed to tie the score up and force overtime. With a defensive stop in the final seconds of the extra session, the Heat forced a decisive Game 7 on their home court. That Game 7 ended up being a living testament to Miami's best season in franchise history, validated the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and left the Spurs with the memory of what if?

After garnering his second triple-double of the series with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, which was also the 11th of his postseason career, James and the Heat won Game 6 103-100 in overtime to tie the series 3-3.

In the decisive Game 7, the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP) scored 37 points in Miami's 95-88 over the Spurs, clinching the Finals 4-3, giving them back-to back titles. 

The 2013 Bill Russell Finals MVP for the second straight season also had 12 boards, going 12 for 23 from the field, including 5 for 10 from three-point range and 8 for 8 from the free throw line. 

As mentioned earlier this game, the entire series in fact was a testament to the best season in Miami Heat team history, which consisted of a 66-16 regular season, their greatest number of wins in team history. Included in that 66 wins was a 27-game winning streak from Feb. 3 to Mar. 27, the second best winning streak in NBA history to the 1971-72 World Champion Los Angeles Lakers who won 33 games in a row, going 69-13 that season.

This was also a validation for the "Big 3" of James, Wade and Bosh, who joined forces three off-seasons ago.

When James came to Miami three seasons ago, he had one goal to win multiple titles. That journey got off to a bumpy start with a loss to the Mavericks in the Finals two years ago and he did not play well at all.

In the last two appearances in the Finals, he has been nothing but brilliant to say the least. The result, back-to-back titles for the Heat.

He was every bit the future Hall of Famer as we have come to know him and he was especially that in Game 6 and 7 where he performed to the level of his 31.5 point average in elimination games, which is the highest in NBA history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Things did not look good for James in the first three quarters of Game 6 where he had just 14 points on 3 for 12 shooting from the field. That all changed in the fourth quarter and overtime where he scored 18 points going 8 for 14 from the floor helping his team outscore the Spurs 38 25 in that time frame.

When it came time to deliver, the most scrutinized player in recent memory delivered, but one of the hardest working added to his legacy and answered his critics once again, while at the same time making some history.

The 37 points James scored in Game 7 tied Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn for the most points scored in Game 7 of the Finals in a victory.

Back in Game 6, James became just the fourth player in Finals history to score 30-plus points, grab 10-plus boards and dish out 10-plus assists in a Finals game. He joined Hall of Famers Charles Barkley (1993), James Worthy (1988) and Jerry West (1969).

He became just the second player in NBA history to win back-to-back regular season MVPs and back-to-back Finals MVPs. The only other player to do that, Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.

He also became just the 3rd player in NBA history to win back-to-back MVPs in the regular season and back-to-back championships, joining Jordan and Russell and just the 5th player in NBA history to win consecutive Finals MVPs joining Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.

"I work hard on my game a lot through the off-season. I put a lot of work into it and to be able to come out here and the results happen out on the floor is the ultimate, James, who averaged 25.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 7.0 apg said to ABC's Doris Burke after the Larry O'Brien Trophy Presentation.

James, who joined Jordan (1991, 1992, 1996, 1998) and Celtics Hall of Famer Larry Bird (1984, 1986) took a moment to answer his critics, if there were any left by saying, "For me, I can't worry about what everybody says about me. I'm LeBron James from Akron, OH from the inner city. I'm not supposed to be here. That's enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 [jersey] with James on the back, I'm blessed. So what everybody says about me off the court don't matter. I ain't go no worries."

With a team that he has around him, especially a sidekick like Wade that is the truth, especially what Wade had to overcome physically this postseason.

For a while Wade was not himself averaging just 14.3 ppg through the first three games of the Finals. James and Bosh were equally under performing as well averaging just 16.7 and 12.3 ppg respectably through the first three games.

In Game four trailing 2-1, James, Wade and Bosh showed up in a big way. James had 33 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Wade scored 32 points on 14 for 25 from the floor to go along with six boards and six steals. Bosh had his best game of the entire postseason with 20 points and 13 rebounds in the 109-93 victory at the Spurs to tie the series 2-2.

After a sub par 14 points in Game 6, Wade came through in Game 7 with 23 points, 10 boards and two blocks on 11 for 21 from the field.

"This is what its all about. Everything that people say about myself individually, other guys on this team, this the reason we came together," Wade, who averaged 19.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.6 apg on 48 percent from the floor in the Finals said to Burke after the game.

"Were a brotherhood. This is the reason Ray Allen came to Miami, to do something special. Two championships in three years together is an unbelievable feet. So were just thankful. Were blessed and we just thank God for giving us the ability to do it."

It is because of that brotherhood the Heat were even in a position to be in Game 7. If Allen does not hit a game-tying three-pointer off a Bosh offensive rebound in the closing moments of Game 6, there is no Game 7.

If swingman Shane Battier, who had been struggling with his shooting through the entire postseason, does not go 6 for 8 from three-point range scoring 18 points in Game 7, the Heat are not back-to-back champions.

If Bosh, who went scoreless in Game 7, does not make the game-saving block on a game-tying three-point attempt by Spurs guard Danny Green in the closing seconds of overtime, the Heat are not back-to-back champions.

"It's better to be timely than good," Battier, who scored nine points on 3 for 4 from three-point range in Game 6 said to Burke after the Game 7 win.

Being good is important. Being talented as the Miami Heat are is great. It also helps that this team does not get rattled very easily.

Going back to the regular season, the Heat have not lost back-to-back games over the final five months of the season, going 13-0 in that period.

The last time they lost consecutive games was Jan 8, a 87-77 lost at the Indiana Pacers and a 92-90 at the Portland Trail Blazers.

While the Heat are a talented group of players, especially James, Wade and Bosh, the team does not have this great ability to bounce back with a steady hand at the controls. That steady hand is head coach Erik Spoelstra.

Whether it is in interviews after the game regular season or postseason, win or lose or in timeouts during the game when coaches wired for sound, Spoelstra speaks to his team in a calm, focused, keep your eye on the prize kind of way. That no moment to big nor is any detail to small to make the most of.

It is that kind of approach that has allowed him to guide this star powered team to appreciate the good times like winning back-to-back titles, stick together through the tough times like losing in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks in six games two years ago. It also keeps the team focused on doing the unglamorous, but important things that are necessary to win games consistently.

For instance making a commitment to play great defense individually and collectively. Bringing an intense focus to the game. Above all else relishing the moments of adversity that bring the best out of you.

The Heat brought that commitment to the defensive end in Game 7 holding the Spurs to 37.8 percent from the field and holding them to just 6 for 19 from three-point range.

In the fourth quarter alone, the Spurs committed seven of their 15 turnovers, surrendering 20 points off of those miscues. The Spurs only scored 17 points in the fourth quarter.

Spurs lead guard Tony Parker was held to just 10 points on 3 for 12 from the floor.

To put Parker's struggles in Game 7 into perspective, he scored on average 11.5 points per contest on drives to the basket going 27 for 54 from the floor and creating 5.7 points on average for the Spurs in the first six games. In Game 7 Parker had no points on drives to the basket going 0 for 6 from the field and created no points for his team.

In the first five games of the Finals, Spurs guard Danny Green averaged 18 ppg and made 25 three-pointers, a new NBA Finals record. In Game 5 alone, Green had 24 points on 8 for 15 shooting, including going 6 for 10 from deep in the Spurs 114-104 win giving them a 3-2 lead.

In the final two games of this series, the Heat defense clamped down on him. The result, Green had just three points on 1 for 7 from the field, including 1 for 5 from distance in Game 6 and he had just five points on just 1 for 12, including 1 for 6 from three-point range in Game 7.

Even with their shooting problems in Game 7, the Spurs were right in the thick of it. They trailed 90-88 with about 50 seconds remaining in the game and forward Tim Duncan, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in Game 7 had a chance to tie the game but his first shot from in close fell short and his second opportunity with Battier on him also fell short.

Moments later, James hit a jumper at the other end that gave the Heat a four-point lead that they would not give up.

"To be in a Game 7 or to be in a Game 6 up one and two chances to win an NBA championship and not do it, that's tough to swallow," Duncan said after the game.

It is so rare to see the Spurs led by head coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili close out a team when they have done so time after time for a decade. Seeing this team go 3 for 6 from the line in the closing moments and give up two three-pointers in the final moments of a game and eventually fall is so rare, especially in the postseason.

It is what makes Game 7 the greatest testament to the amazing season of the Miami Heat.

In the Duncan era, which is 16 seasons, the Spurs have made the playoffs each season, which is the most in the NBA. They have won and NBA best 62.2 percent of their regular season games. Their five appearances in the Finals, winning in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 are second only to the Lakers, who have appeared in the Finals seven times winning five times.

In the Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Popovich era, the Spurs have won 70.7 percent of their regular season games and 63.2 percent of their playoff games.

For 14 straight seasons, the Spurs have won 50-plus games or more in the regular season. Their 98 playoff victories with their "Big 3" and their 22 postseason series wins are the most since 2003.

It is not surprising after the game both teams who battled  fiercely in this NBA Finals shared solid pleasantries once Game 7 was decided.

Wade after the game said to Burke that Duncan, "is one of the greatest players of all-time. He had a hell of a series. If I'm able to do what Tim Duncan did at 37 years old, I'm happy. That guy is a warrior and I just wanted to pay my respect to one of the game's greats."

Coach Spoelstra, who won his 50th postseason game as Heat head coach, a new franchise record said during the Larry O' Brien trophy presentation that this was the toughest series his team had ever been in.

"This was a tremendous game. It would not end any other way and were so grateful to do it in front of our fans here at home," Spoelstra said after the game.

The question now for the Heat, can they three-peat?

There chances are great because they have the best player in the game in James. However Wade has to get healthy again and be the true sidekick to James, which at times he was not this postseason because of his sore knee.

On top of that, will the Heat keep Bosh or trade him to get more stable front court help? There were times during this season and in the postseason, especially in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Indiana Pacers that the Heat looked and played small, especially on the offensive and defensive glass. The combination of center Roy Hibbert and forward David West was difficult.

It did not help that in Game 7 Bosh went scoreless on 0 for 7 from the floor. If the Heat have any intention of a three-peat, Bosh has to come back and play a lot better or the team has to get great value for him.

For the Spurs it comes back to this. It had been six years since their last appearance in the Finals. There are many times that it was thought that this team is passed its prime. Duncan and Ginobili are too old.

In the seasons that have followed they have drafted well and have done well in getting complimentary players to fit around Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. Popovich has a solid read on his team. He does not wear them down during the regular season. So until Duncan retires, the Spurs always have a chance.

Information, quotations and statistics are courtesy of 6/6/13 9 p.m. broadcast of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat with commentary by Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, sideline reporter Doris Burke; 6/20/13 9 p.m. broadcast of Game 7 of the NBA Finals on ABC between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat with commentary by Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, sideline reporter Doris Burke;