James glared at the Spurs’ bench and pushed all in. Time to let it ride.
“The saying ‘hard work pays off’ is a true testament of what happened [Thursday night],” James said.
Defeated and sitting in front of a postgame microphone, Popovich called James’ performance “Hall of Fame basketball.”
James finished with five three-pointers, making 3 of 4 attempts in a back-and-forth third quarter that featured five ties and four lead changes. In the second half, all seven of James’ field goals came from outside the paint, including the biggest one of all, a 19-footer with 27.9 seconds left that put the Heat ahead by four points.
“LeBron was unbelievable,” Spurs power forward Tim Duncan said. “He stepped up in this last game, and he made enough shots to make us change our defense over and over again. We just couldn’t find a way to stop him.”
On the biggest stage, in a “win-all-or-lose-everything” scenario, with a legacy in the balance, James reached a level of greatness only few have obtained in the game of basketball. His 37 points on the last night of the postseason was the most in a Game 7 of the Finals since Jerry West had 42 against Boston in 1969.
James began the Finals averaging 17.5 points in Games 1 and 2. He finished it going 23 of 49 from the field in Games 6 and 7 for an average of 34.5 points.
“I said before the series that I was a better player than I was the last time I faced the Spurs,” James said. “Didn’t look that way the first couple of games. But I stuck with it. Through all that adversity and throughout, I guess, the rhythm that I was in at that point, I just kept going. Just trusted all the work that I put into my game.”
In winning his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP Award, James now joins Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the only three players in NBA history to win back-to-back MVPs and Finals MVPs.
“The story is still yet to be seen what he’s going to end up with, but right now he’s going to enjoy No. 2,” Dwyane Wade said. “Winning back-to-back, there’s not a lot of people who has done that. He’s a special player. We enjoy having him here. What he brings every night is unbelievable.”
And so begins James’ march toward history. He’s already one of the greatest players to ever play the game. That only leaves one obvious goal.
“And I will continue to work for that and continue to put on this uniform and be the best I can be every night,” James said.