That’s three titles for a town and two crowns for its king.
With a season, a playoffs, an NBA Finals and a Game 7 that will echo for years to come, the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena to win its second NBA championship in a row and cap the most exciting two weeks in South Florida sports history.
LeBron James played stunning, brilliant basketball to earn the NBA Finals MVP for the second straight year and Dwyane Wade, who played throughout the playoffs despite knee problems, saved his best for the final game of a grueling postseason. James finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, going 12 of 23 from the field, 5 of 10 from three-point range and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line. Wade had 23 points, 10 rebounds and an assist and made 11 of his 21 attempts.
“This team is amazing, and the vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true,” James said. “Through adversity, through everything we’ve been through, we’ve been able to persevere and to win back-to-back championships. It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m happy to be part of such a first-class organization.”
FINALLY, BACK TO BACK WINS
To repeat as champion, the Heat had to win back-to-back games for the first time since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Miami won Game 7s in back-to-back series, providing South Florida with one of the most exhilarating rides professional sports can offer.
It was the Heat’s first Finals Game 7 in the 25-year history of the franchise and it was a classic. The teams seemed to swap the lead on nearly every possession throughout the third quarter, and the final period provided nail-biting drama until the final minute. Game 7 was tied 11 times and the lead changed hands seven times.
“This was a tremendous game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It wouldn’t end any other way.”
James, who scored 22 points in the second half, nailed a 19-foot jumper with 27.9 seconds left to give the Heat a 92-88 lead and then, to seal the championship, stole a pass from Manu Ginobili after a timeout. He then made a pair of free throws to kick-start the celebration.
James scored 69 points in the final two games of the Finals and here’s a jaw-dropping statistic: Throughout his career, James has averaged 34.4 points in five career Game 7s.
“He made enough shots to make us change our defense over and over again,” Spurs power forward Tim Duncan said. “We just couldn’t find a way to stop him.”
CHALMERS HITS KEY THREE
Mario Chalmers banked in a long three-pointer at the end of the third quarter to give the Heat a 72-71 lead. From there, the madness began. Consider this for a measure of how crazy Game 7 truly was: Only five players scored for the Heat, yet James, Wade, Chalmers and Shane Battier outscored the Spurs 92-88.
“Shane ain’t hit a shot since I don’t know when and tonight he was unconscious,” Wade said.
Battier, who redeemed himself 1,000 times over for his performance in the Eastern Conference finals, scored 18 points, going 6 of 8 from three-point range. Chalmers had 14 points, and Chris Andersen had three points to round out the uneven scoring. Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Chris Bosh shot 0 of 14 combined.
“It’s better to be timely than good,” Battier said. “I believe in basketball gods and I felt like they owed me big-time.”
For Duncan, the Spurs’ four-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer, it was his first loss in a Finals. He finished with 24 points, going 8 of 18 from the field, but went 2 of 6 in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Spurs shot 30 percent (6 of 20) from the field in the final period.
San Antonio led by three with 46.4 seconds left in the third quarter before Battier tied the score with his fourth three-pointer of the game.
“Game 7 is always going to haunt me,” Duncan said.
A STORYBOOK SEASON
Alongside the 1972 undefeated Dolphins, the 2013 Heat will go down as one of the greatest professional sports teams in South Florida history. The unforgettable run began with a franchise-best 66-win regular season, which included a 27-game winning streak, and ended on a makeshift stage in the middle of AmericanAirlines Arena with Heat owner Micky Arison raising his franchise’s third Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“Go party,” someone screamed into the stage’s microphone to the 19,900 fans in attendance and an entire city watching from homes and parties and bars throughout South Florida.
Thursday night marked the seven-year anniversary of the Heat’s first championship. In that time, Miami has celebrated more NBA titles than any other city. But this party was different. It was ecstasy borne from endurance and wonderment crafted by willpower.
For Heat players, coaches and fans, the back-and-forth nature of the final month of the postseason was a gut-wrenching exercise. Beginning May 22 and not ending until the final game on the last possible day of the postseason, the Heat swapped wins for losses and kept an entire city wrapped in dueling emotional states of despair and joy.
Last year, when the Heat won its first title of the Big 3 Era and put to rest the pain of 2011, James said the struggle was the toughest thing he had ever accomplished. This run to the title was exponentially more difficult and the sweetness of victory resonated throughout the region deep into the night.
‘THE SWEETEST ONE’
“This is the sweetest one by far because of everything we’ve been through, everything I’ve been through individually,” Wade said, “and to get here to this moment, to have that kind of performance, that kind of game, help lead my team – it’s special.”
James’ stretch of greatness since the start of the 2011-12 regular season has been a masterstroke of legendary athletic excellence. He has won it all two years running – the championship, the MVP and the NBA Finals MVP – becoming the first player to win all three in back-to-back seasons since Michael Jordan in 1991 and 1992.
“Everything that we’ve been through throughout this postseason, especially in these Finals, to be down – we were down every odd game,” James said. “We were scratching for our lives.”