by: Michael Shields
The NBA got the dream match-up it desired, and hoop fans were taken for the ride of their lives. NBA Finals 2013, Deconstructed…..
Lebron James legacy has been discussed more than The Red Wedding, Yeezus, and the NSA scandal combined. The reason for this is simple. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that Lebron was The Chosen One. We were promised the successor to Jordan and thus we have analyzed the young man’s career with a magnifying glass weighing his worthiness. It can be argued that his legacy was already sound prior to last evening. He already had garnered four MVPs ((2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)), an Olympic gold medal, a championship and a finals MVP trophy earned last season with one of the best statistical performances of all-time.
Yet, with a loss last evening he would have dropped to 1 and 4 in the Finals. More Wilt than Jordan – and yes that is a knock on the man who once put up triple digits in a game. Moving to Miami in the manner he did put a stink on Bron, one that could only be removed by winning multiple championships, to justify “The Decision.” The only option was to win. And he is doing just that.
Last night, in a hard fought battle, the Miami Heat clinched their second straight NBA Championship with a 95-88 win over the Spurs. Lebron James, who scored 69 points in the final two games, secured his second Finals MVP trophy in a row. It appears as if we are in the midst of King James’s dynasty. Maybe all that we were promised is beginning to manifest itself…..
It was inevitable. The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat were essentially the 2 best teams in the league all season ((The use of the word ‘essentially’ is due to the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder finished with 2 more wins than the Spurs. We all know who is a better team however.)), and thus it was fitting that they finally locked horns to decide it all. Spurs vs. Heat was a dream match-up for the NBA and its fans. It had everything you want in a series: Stars – both in the limelight and those underachieving, Coaches – one a legend and the other on the comeuppance. And it even had 2 “Big Threes!” To top it off, both teams were brimming with compelling role players, equating to a plethora of underdogs to root for.
It is pertinent to recall that the Spurs have happened upon Lebron in the Finals before. In ‘07 a much younger, and less polished, King James was swept out of the playoffs by the mighty Spurs and the ageless trio of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. But this time around the Spurs would be facing a much different Lebron ((Averaging 6.6 more ppg, 3 more rpg, and shooting 11% higher from the field)), aided by a more capable supporting cast. There would be no sweep this time. This was Lebron’s third Finals appearance in a row. The game was afoot!
Game 1, 6, and 7 were barnburners. Instant classics. Epic. All That. But, each game was significant in its own right and it is important to look at each piece of the larger whole to understand the grandeur of this unforgettable series. Let’s get into it…..
The talk was that the Spurs would be rusty. They entered Game 1 after a nine day rest simply because they handled the Memphis Grizzlies with ease while The Heat were busy slugging it out with the Pacers ((In the most important game of Paul George’s career he came up short (7pts on 2 for 9 shooting and fouled out). The great ones learn from nights such as these. Bron did.)). We went into this game discussing and comparing the greatness of Tim Duncan ((A Top 10 NBA all time great, no question. This evening Duncan joined Elgin Baylor, A.C. Green,and John Salley as the only men to make a Finals appearance in three decades.)) and Lebron James. But we exited this game, one in which the Spurs stole on the road, talking about the fact that Tony parker is, simply put, the best point guard in the NBA ((Sorry Chris Paul – it’s going to take winning more than 2 playoff series in your career to be considered the best.)). In the closing seconds of a tight game, he desperately weaved in and around Heat defenders to eventually bank in an off-balanced jumper in Lebron’s eye to seal the deal. A thrilling finish to a sensational opening act ((Tim Duncan finished with 20 and 14 and Bron had a triple double – 18/18/10.)). It was Tony’s night – and out of respect for him we can comfortably leave it at that.
Spurs 92 Heat 88
In a must win for the Heat (you don’t drop the first two at home and win – you just don’t) they did just that – and in overwhelming fashion. It wasn’t Lebron ((He did finish with 17 and a memorable block of Tiago Splitter.)) but rather his teammates who led the Heat to the blowout win. Chalmers had 19, Ray Allen had 13 and the fourth quarter was all Heat. The Spurs Big Three just flat out looked off, and they would have been further humiliated if Danny Green didn’t go 5 for 5 from deep, compiling 17 points.
Heat 103 Spurs 84
Before game 3 of this 2013 NBA Finals, the record for a team was 14 3-pointers in one game, an honor held by three teams ((Those three teams – The 1994-95 Houston Rockets, the 94-95 Orlando Magic, and last year’s Heat.)). The Spurs upped the ante by hitting 16 3-pointers and were led by the unlikely duo of Danny Green and Gary Neal ((Neal went undrafted after playing for LaSalle and Towson, then played overseas for three seasons in Italy, Spain and Turkey.)) who combined for 13 of 19 shooting from beyond the arc for a total of 51 points. It was raining 3’s all night, and when a team shoots this well you really do not have a chance to compete.
Spurs 113 Heat 77
The demise of the Heat’s Big Three has been greatly exaggerated, as in Game 4 they showed they still had what it takes to completely dominate a game. James had 33 points and 11 rebounds after failing to break 20 points in any of the first three games of the series, and we got a glimpse of the Dwyane Wade of old as he put up 32. Bosh, the 3rd wheel of the Big Three, matched his playoff high with 20 points and pulled down 13 boards. The story here is they still got it. It was now a 3 game series and the Heat were assured 2 of those at home. All tied up at 2.
Heat 109 Spurs 93
At this point the series was getting a touch predictable. Besides Game 1, every game where a team just simply HAD to win they stepped up and took care of business: Heat couldn’t lose the first two at home to start so they needed Game 2 and took it. Spurs had to exhibit dominance at home so game 3 was pivotal and they got it done. The Heat didn’t’ want to face elimination in Game 5 in San Antonio so they stepped up in Game 4 and assured that the series would return home. And, true to form in Game 5 The Spurs, who simply had to get another one at home if they had a shot at the title, came with it….
Ginobili inevitably broke out of his slump and came strong with 24 points and 10 assists. Tony Parker added 26 and Tim had 17. And Danny Green, once again shocked the world, smashing the NBA Finals record for 3-pointers (in front of a visibly upset Ray Allen, the previous record holder) by hitting 6 more and compiling 24 points. If the Spurs were to go on and win the title it appeared as if Danny Green was to become the most improbable Finals MVP ever. Danny motherf*@*in GREEN! Wow ((Danny Green, it is important to note, was waived from two teams since he entered the league in 2009, and also played for two D-league squads while working his way back into the NBA.)).
All the while Pop once again demonstrated his brilliance with the x’s and o’s, unleashing Diaw on Lebron with stifling results. Diaw looked poised to swallow Bron whole and held him to 1 of 8 shooting from the field.
Spurs 114 Heat 104
The series moved back to Miami, where the Heat were one game away from being ousted, and if so that would occur in front of their own fans. They have yet to win two games in a row in the series and now they must. If the Spurs win they will be 5-0 in the NBA Finals ((Michael Jordan’s 6-0 Bulls are the only other team to make it to the Finals multiple times and never lose.)). Although the pressure is squarely on the Heat it is important to note that no home team has won Game 6, then lost Game 7. Thus – this was clearly the Spurs best shot at glory.
At the risk of running abandoned with hyperbole, it is fair to say that Game 6 of the 2013 Finals was one of the best basketball games played ((“It’s by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of.” – Lebron James.)). It had it all. Two of the best in the game (ever) playing at the peak of their ability. Duncan had 25 in the first half and finished with 30 while Lebron amassed another triple double, most of his stats compiled in the crucial fourth quarter and in overtime ((LeBron James became the fourth player in NBA history with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in an NBA Finals game. He’s just the second to do it in a win, joining James Worthy.)). It had Khalil’s Leonard’s facial of Mike Miller ((Khalil finished with 22)), Mike Miller’s shoeless 3, Lebron’s headband-less dunk ((“When the headband came off, you were thrown. To us, he seemed exposed, caught, naked, revealed, embarrassed, humiliated. He seemed pantsed. Surely, someone would bring him a replacement. But what was he hiding? What did he have to be embarrassed about? It was a headband, not a fig leaf. James played on without it, and, to the awe of the whole wide world, playing with his hairline visible and his forehead exposed seemed to empower him, to make him scarier, stronger, bolder, and more determined.” –Wesley Morris)), Tony Parker virtually sealing the deal with a clutch 3 and then a soft floater to put the Spurs up 5 with 30 seconds left (and the Heat won!), fundamental mistakes by the always fundamentally sound Spurs ((San Antonio gave up two critical offensive rebounds in the waning moments of the fourth quarter which directly lead to two dagger three-pointers (Bron then Ray). The Spurs also gave Miami hope by missing two big free throws (Ginobili and Khalil) in the final minute of regulation. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich also curiously sat Tim Duncan during one crucial possession late in regulation defensively and later Tony Parker for the final play of overtime.)), Bosh’s game-ending block, and it had….Ray Allen’s epic game tying 3.
Game 6 was more of a drug than a basketball game. A drug that had us fiending for more, pacing back and forth, biting our fingernails in burning anticipation for Thursday night, as there was going to be a final and decisive Game 7!
Heat 103 Spurs 100
It doesn’t really make sense, and maybe this is speaking in hindsight, but a game plan which allows the best player in the league space to shoot seems the perfect way to shoot yourself square in the foot. Yet that is exactly what the Spurs did all night in the deciding game 7. This strategy would have certainly worked a few years back, but Bron 2.0 made the Spurs pay for this outdated strategy, knocking down 5 3-pointers and hitting his mid-range jumper consistently on the way to 37 points.
LeBron’s sidekick, Dwyane Wade, was doing his thing too. He put up 23 points and 10 rebounds. In fact Wade, who has been counted out time and again, had a great playoffs all around. He came up huge a few nights earlier in a must win Game 4, as well as in the two biggest games of the Pacers series and the final game with the Bulls. When LeBron and Wade both play this well the Heat are impossible to beat, especially when taken into account that Shane Battier decided to contribute, knocking down 6 3-pointers for 18 points. No one saw that coming.
The Heat became the NBA’s first repeat champions since the Lakers in 2009-10, and the first team to beat the Spurs in the NBA Finals, who limped off the court knowing all too well that this might be the final curtain call of an unparalleled era of excellence ((It’s fun to recall the interchange after the 2007 Finals, when Tim Duncan told LeBron, “This is gonna be your league in a little while. I appreciate you giving us this year.”)).
One of the greatest NBA Finals of all times concludes with confetti falling like snow from the rafters of the American Airlines Arena, onto the back to back World Champion Miami Heat ((Yes, this does mean that Birdman indeed has a title.)).
Heat 95 Spurs 88
The criticism may never stop. It’s a fact of life that haters are gonna hate – and LeBron’s had a bulls-eye on his chest since he packed his bags and headed South to Miami. Prodigious talents like James will always be misunderstood and continually criticized ((Just ask Kanye.)). He has been lambasted unjustly for coming up short in big games, yet he has risen to the occasion in more big moments in the last two years than any player on the planet. In the critical game 6 he finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, and last evening, in game 7, he did more of the same – literally willing his team to victory. For six consecutive years James has dauntlessly labored during the offseason. The NBA’s most unstoppable weapon kept toiling away, improving his craft, in an effort to finally earn the crown prematurely placed upon his head. The hard work has paid off.
Now, the transformation is complete. With playoff performances on route to back to back titles that were a fitting testament to all his efforts to improve – Lebron James has seized complete control of the league. Last night’s win brought more than another crown for Lebron James and the Miami Heat, it validated the team and its star – forever cementing their place amongst the NBA’s greats. They will undoubtedly be the favorites to win it all again next season and one could assume the year after that, and after that, and……
It’s undeniable….he’s doing it. It’s finally happening. And think about this for a moment: LeBron is 28 years old, he’s got four MVPs, two titles, two Finals MVPs, has improved his game every single year in the league, and he most likely has a decade of basketball ahead of him! The truth is you can go on hating him forever……or you can sit back and enjoy the show.