MIAMI » Victory in Game 7 brought more than another crown for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. It validated the team and its leader, forever cementing their place among the NBA’s greats.
For the vanquished San Antonio Spurs, it simply compounded the misery of a championship that got away.
James led the Heat to their second straight title, scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 95-88 victory Thursday in a tense game that was tight until Miami pulled away in the final minute.
Capping their best season in franchise history — and perhaps the three-superstar system they used to build it — the Heat ran off with a second straight thriller.
Two nights after his Game 6 save when the Heat were almost eliminated, James continued his unparalleled run through the basketball world, with two titles and an Olympic gold medal in the past 12 months.
"I work on my game a lot throughout the offseason," said James, who was MVP for the second straight Finals. "I put a lot of work into it, and to be able to come out here and (have) the results happen out on the floor is the ultimate. The ultimate. I’m at a loss for words."
He made five 3-pointers, defended Tony Parker when he had to, and did everything else that could ever be expected from the best player in the game.
A whisker away from a fifth title two nights earlier, the Spurs couldn’t find a way to win it all in what was perhaps the last shot for Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili to grab another ring together.
"In my case I still have Game 6 in my head," Ginobili said. "Today we played an OK game, they just made more shots than us. LeBron got hot. Shane (Battier), too. Those things can happen. But being so close and feeling that you are about to grab that trophy, and seeing it vanish is very hard."
They were trying to become the first team to win a Game 7 on the road since Washington beat Seattle in 1978, but those old guys ran out of gas just before the finish.
Fans stood, clapped and danced as the clock ticked down, when every score was answered by another score, each stop followed by a better stop. The Heat pushed their lead to six points a few times midway through the fourth but San Antonio kept coming back.
Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs, but missed a shot and follow attempt right under the basket with about 50 seconds left and the Spurs trailing by two.
James followed with a jumper — the shot the Spurs were daring him to take earlier in the series — to make it 92-88, sending San Antonio to a timeout as Glenn Frey’s "The Heat Is On" blared over the arena’s sound system.
He then came up with a steal and made two free throws for a six-point lead, and after Ginobili missed, James stalked toward the sideline, knowing it was over and that he was, again, the last one standing.
Dwyane Wade had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who overcame a scoreless Chris Bosh by getting six 3-pointers and 18 points from Shane Battier.
"It was a great series and we all felt that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word, but in all honesty, even in defeat, I’m starting to enjoy what our group accomplished already, when you look back. And you need to do that, to put in perspective. So it’s no fun to lose, but we lost to a better team. And you can live with that as long as you’ve given your best, and I think we have."
Streamers fell from the arena ceiling onto the fans for the second year in a row, but this one meant so much more. A narrow escape in Game 6 was still fresh in everyone’s mind.
They were down 10 in the fourth quarter of that one before James led the charge back, finishing with a triple-double in Miami’s 103-100 overtime victory. This one was nearly as tight, neither team leading by more than seven and the game tied 11 times.
Kawhi Leonard had 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Spurs, who had been 4-for-4 in the championship round. Ginobili had 18 points but Parker managed just 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting.
"Just give credit to the Miami Heat. LeBron was unbelievable. Dwyane was great. I just think they found a way to get it done," Duncan said. "We stayed in the game. We gave ourselves opportunities to win the game, we just couldn’t turn that corner."
–Brian Mahoney / Associated Press
HEAT 95, SPURS 88
Percentages: FG .378, FT .909. 3-Point Goals: 6-19, .316 (Ginobili 2-5, Diaw 1-1, Neal 1-3, Leonard 1-4, Green 1-6). Team Rebounds: 7. Team Turnovers: 15 (20 PTS). Blocked Shots: 3 (Duncan, Green, Leonard). Turnovers: 14 (Ginobili 4, Duncan 3, Green 2, Leonard 2, Parker 2, Neal). Steals: 12 (Duncan 4, Parker 3, Green 2, Splitter 2, Leonard). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .439, FT .688. 3-Point Goals: 12-32, .375 (Battier 6-8, James 5-10, Chalmers 1-7, Bosh 0-1, Allen 0-2, Miller 0-4). Team Rebounds: 11. Team Turnovers: 16 (16 PTS). Blocked Shots: 4 (Wade 2, Andersen, Bosh). Turnovers: 16 (Chalmers 4, Wade 4, Allen 3, Bosh 2, James 2, Andersen). Steals: 8 (Chalmers 2, James 2, Miller 2, Battier, Wade). Technical Fouls: None.
A–19,900 (19,600). T–2:38. Officials–Dan Crawford, Scott Foster, Monty McCutchen.