MIAMI — For all those who pulled against LeBron James because he made a decision that you disagreed with for his future — this one’s for you. I was really kind of surprised at the nearly 3-1 margin of fans on Facebook-Twitter-media and fans of basketball that picked against the Miami Heat vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.
Miami won the decisive game five 121-106 in a rout to capture the first title for the famed Big Three, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in South Beach. The Big Three combined to score 60 points in the game-five clincher. “It means everything,” James said. “I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland. It’s a dream come true.”
It’s also “about damn time,” as James said, this being his ninth season and third trip to the Finals.
It was personal for many, or maybe some assumed that the Thunder had won the title when they stopped San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals four games to two after the Spurs had won 20 straight games and had the NBA’s best record? Or because the Thunder had young Kevin Durant, three-time NBA scoring champion and overall good guy. And guard Russell Westbrook, the fifth-leading scorer in the league, and NBA Sixth Man of the Year (The Beard) James Harden.
This season was about redemption, and James and the Miami Heat took every step and answered every challenge along the way. Miami is the first NBA Champion to trail in three different series (vs. Indiana 2-1, Boston 3-2 and Oklahoma City 1-0) and win the Finals. For James and Dwyane Wade, this was their third trip to the Finals; experience is a great teacher and motivator.
The Heat Head Coach Eric Spoelstra is off to a great start. This is his second NBA title; he was an assistant to Pat Riley in 2006 when Miami beat Dallas. Spoelstra is 34-22 in the playoffs all-time in four years, tying him at 34 with Riley for most all-time coaching wins with the Heat.
The Thunder were 18-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better in the Finals. The Heat defense made the difference, holding the Thunder under 50 percent shooting in four of the five games. And by out-rebounding the Thunder in four of the five games, all of which they won.
Heat President Pat Riley, the 2008 Basketball Hall of Famer, has the best of both worlds. Starting out as an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, he now has eight NBA titles to go with his Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the National Basketball Coaches Association.
Riley has long preached the importance of rebounding.
The marquee match-up of the NBA Finals was three-time MVP James and NBA three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant. Both players played well — exceptionally, I might add. The biggest difference was James did more for Miami; he was the better defender, rebounder and leader. James was selected unanimously as the Bill Russell award winner as MVP of the Finals; he averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the Finals.
Durant scored 30 points or more three times in the Finals, averaging 30.6 in five games, and he averaged 28.5 points in the playoffs. The Thunder lost two of the games he scored 30 points or more in. Durant scored 30 or more nine times in the playoffs.
James wins MVP in the regular season and Finals — it’s been done 14 times by 10 different players. James averaged 30.3 points for the 2012 playoffs and scored 30 points or more 13 times. The all-time mark for most 30-point games in the playoffs is 16 held and shared by Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Former Timberwolves player Mike Miller scored 23 points in the game-five clincher and made seven of eight from three-point range. It’s also the first NBA title for Shane Battier, who played a strong role in the Finals making 15-26 (.577) from three-point range in the Finals. Wade wins his second title and averaged 22.6 points in the Finals. The Heat don’t beat the Thunder without Bosh, whose toughness and rebounding inside was critical. Bosh scored 24 in game five.
The Heat as a team with James attacking off the dribble inside throughout the series got Durant in foul trouble and allowed the Heat to set an NBA Finals mark for a five-game Finals making 42 of 98 (.429) from three-point range. Thirty-nine-year-old bench player Juwan Howard becomes the first and only member of Michigan’s Fab Five to win an NBA title.
Miami is the third team to win all three of the middle three games at home in the NBA’s 2-3-2 Finals format. In fact, they have done it twice. Derek Fisher of the Thunder, a five-time NBA Champion, added to his post-season legacy: He has now played in the third-most (229) NBA playoffs games all-time, behind Robert Horry with 244 and Kareem Abdul Jabbar with 237.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitz[email protected], or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.