Friday, June 21, 2013

A Game 7 To Remember as an Era Continues

You can say whatever you want about these NBA Finals. After seven brilliant games, I can only applaud both teams for leaving it all out there and giving us a series to remember. Game 7 had a lot to live up to and it did.

I salute the Spurs in defeat. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich lost for the first time in these NBA Finals and they looked haunted as if they hadn’t already won four before.

Duncan gave it all these last two games but it was two easy shots in the paint guarded by a smaller Shane Battier that many will remember. His reaction afterwards made him more human and for one of the 15 greatest players of all time, it's hard to not feel empathy as he left the Finals for the first time without a ring.

It’s a heartbreaking moment similar to Tom Brady feeling dejected after the 2012 Super Bowl. A former champion at the closest he’s been to the mountaintop only to fall short and not know if that was the last chance.

Tony Parker began these Finals as a hero and ended it on the bench after a tough Game 7. Hobbled by a bad hamstring, he tried to play well and didn’t as he was smothered on D.  Manu Ginobili had a solid 18 points but his critical turnovers at the end of Game 7 almost overshadowed the fact this was his 2nd-best game of the series.

Kawhi Leonard reminded us why he was a steal in the 2011 draft. He averaged a double-double in the NBA Finals and he shook off the missed free throw in Game 6 to come hungry in Game 7.  He’s only 21 and his mental fortitude will only grow with his game.

In the end, Game 7 was about what the Heat did well. What LeBron James did to lead and what Battier, Mario Chalmers and Chris Anderson did along with Dwyane Wade to play their part to leave the floor as champions.

No points from Chris Bosh and Ray Allen? No problem. Without them, Miami doesn’t get to this point so you can almost excuse them.

It was Battier being money from the perimeter once again and defending Green from going off. It was Chalmers showing why over the last five years, he’s been clutch. It was Anderson showing why his impact was essential to the Heat’s success the second half of the season. His story is one of redemption as well as he went from being out of the NBA to returning to his old status as a spark plug.

It was Wade shaking off the rust of his first 3 Finals games to play much better over the last four. Knee injury be darned, he was out there giving his all and reminded us why he may be declining but he’s still lethal.

Most of all, it was LeBron James. He took what the defense gave him on the perimeter and made the Spurs pay. He hit the shot that put Game 7 away in the fourth quarter. He helped to shut down Tony Parker into a miserable game. He gave us one more masterpiece to remind us how dominant he’s been this season.

This is his time now. Last year was about getting to the mountaintop. This year was about firmly putting his stamp on this era as his.  In 12 months, he’s won 2 titles, a gold medal, his 4th MVP and left no doubt that his Decision to come to Miami was a success.

His speech said it all. An inner-city kid from Akron, Ohio, who's grateful that he plays a game when the odds were against him growing up. It reminds you that he's been a prodigy since he was 16 and has risen to the top of his craft in 10 years as a professional. It's remarkable and I loved what he had to say.

How fitting he does this against the team that swept him in 2007. The team that showed him he had a lot of growing up to do in terms of skill and leadership. It was lessons he had to learn later against Boston and Orlando. Even though he’s proved long ago that he had clutch inside of him, he left no doubt for the few people still hung up about it.

Six years ago, the Spurs taught LeBron what it takes to be a champion. Six years later, they gave him one more master course on being a champion. It's done through growth and trust in your skills and teammates and when you pass, you salute the master for helping you surpass him.

As I said yesterday, this game shouldn't be about legacy. But at the same time, LeBron's performance was a reminder why his 2012-13 season was remarkable. The Heat's collective effort and heart in Games 6 and 7 showed why their 2012-13 season was one of the best in recent memory.

This was one of the best Finals I’ve seen in a while. Shame somebody had to lose but in the James era, falling second to him and his team is really no shame at all. Just comes with the territory and we'd better continue appreciating it while it lasts.

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