James scored 37 points and grabbed 12 rebounds last night in Miami as the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It was the 18th decisive seventh game in the 66-year history of the championship series, with home teams now owning an 15-3 record.
The Heat prevented the Spurs from winning their fifth NBA title in 15 years and Tim Duncan from joining John Salley as the second player to win championships in three decades. The victory also furthers the legacy of James, who joins Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the only players to win NBA Most Valuable Player awards and championships in back-to-back seasons.
“The vision I had when I decided to come here is beginning to come true,” said James, who joined the Heat before the 2010-11 season after seven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. “To win back-to-back championships is an unbelievable feeling. This is what it’s all about.”
James hit a 19-foot jump shot with 27 seconds left to give the Heat a 92-88 lead after Duncan missed a pair of shots at close range that could have tied the score. James then had a steal and made a pair of free throws with 23 seconds remaining to seal the victory and earn the NBA Finals MVP trophy, which he received after the game from Russell.
“It’s better to be timely than good,” Battier said at the trophy presentation ceremony as confetti fell at midcourt.
James, who later cradled the championship trophy as he was sprayed with celebratory champagne in the Miami locker room, joins Elgin Baylor as the second NBA player to score 30 or more points in four straight postseason Game 7’s.
“It became time,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James’s performance. “He always rises to the occasion when it matters the most, when the competition is fiercest.”
James’s Game 7 playoff scoring average of 34.4 is the highest of all-time. Jordan, who won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, has the second-highest at 33.7.
James has now won his past two trips to the NBA Finals after losing his first two -- with the Cavaliers in 2007 and following his first season with the Heat in 2011.
Duncan, whose Spurs in 2007 swept the Cavaliers, told a then 22-year-old James that “the league is going to be yours soon.” James, now 28, has made that prediction a reality. The Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games a year ago and this season fought past a Spurs team that had won all four of its previous appearances in the NBA Finals.
“The story is still yet to be seen what he’s going to end up with,” Wade said. “He’s a special player. We enjoy having him here and what he brings every night is unbelievable.”
When James joined the Heat in July 2010 he said his plan was to win more than one title. “Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,” James said at the time before 13,000 fans at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“The question going forward is how many he’ll win,” said former point guard Greg Anthony, who’s now an NBA TV analyst. “That is an impressive group to be with, the two greatest winners in our game: Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. Now he’s in that conversation in the right way, by winning championships, winning Most Valuable Player awards.”
The Heat, who also won a title in 2006, are already listed as 3-1 favorites to win next season’s championship, according to online handicapping information website Pregame.com.
Miami’s Game 7 win last night came two days after the Heat rallied twice in the fourth quarter before beating the Spurs 103-100 in overtime. After some Miami fans left the arena, the Heat in Game 6 hit two 3-pointers in the final 20.1 seconds of the fourth quarter to erase a five-point deficit.
“We had a great chance in Game 6,” said Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who had 10 points last night on 3-of-12 shooting. “Tonight we gave it a great fight, but couldn’t get over the hump. After Game 7, of course you’re going to think about how close we were in Game 6.”
The Heat and Spurs showed signs of nerves in the first quarter last night, combining for 34 points after averaging 48.8 between them in the opening quarter the first six games of the series. The Heat were held to 10 points over the first 10 minutes and closed the final two minutes of the first quarter with an 8-0 scoring run to take a 18-16 lead.
The teams went back and forth after that, with a series of lead changes and ties, and neither team led by more than six points until a free throw by Wade with 16 seconds left. As the final buzzer sounded, Wade first went to exchange a hug with the 37-year-old Duncan, whose 843 career wins rank fifth in NBA history. Duncan led the Spurs with 24 points and 12 rebounds, while Kawhi Leonard had 19 points and 16 rebounds.
“T.D. is one of the greatest players of all time,” Wade said. “That guy is a warrior and I just wanted to pay my respects to one of the game’s greats.”
Chris Bosh, who joined the Heat with James before the 2010-11 season and is the third member of Miami’s “Big Three,” failed to score last night. Mario Chalmers added 14 points for the Heat, including a 3-pointer he banked in off the backboard to end the third quarter.
Miami is the first team to successfully defend since the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers. The last club to win three straight NBA titles was the Lakers from 2000-02.
“I want to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever, to play this game.” James said with the championship and MVP trophies at his side. “I will continue to work for that and continue to put on this uniform and be the best I can be.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at email@example.com