NBA Finals: Heat Beat Spurs, Age of LeBron Lives On
When the Heat trailed the Spurs by 5 with less than 30 seconds remaining in Game 6, the odds of them winning that game were hovering around the single digit percent area.
That was the darkest hour for LeBron James and company during these NBA Playoffs.
Nine months of work was about to be flushed down the toilet, and LeBron was staring into an abyss with his legacy teetering on the brink. The Heat needed a couple Spurs missed free throws, got two three pointers of their own in those final twenty seconds, both off of second shots no less, and they were able to scrape out an improbable 103-100 win in overtime.
So when you think about it, on Thursday night, the Heat won a hard fought 95-88 Game 7 that probably never should have even taken place. They got more than a little lucky at the end of Game 6, LeBron even admitted it after both Games 6 and 7.
But years from now, there will be no caveats, no asterisks regarding "luck" in the Game 6 box score, just a title coronation the next big thing that felt preordained all season long. (To be clear, LeBron's been "big" for a while, but I mean BIG, like now we can, with a straight face, ramp up the Magic and Michael talk the next couple years. Sports talk radio wet dream alert!)
The King is alive, and the Heat are world champions. Let's dig in on a few winners and losers from the series and Thursday night, shall we?
4. Shane Battier
The sign of a real pro? How about this: After being a key component of last season's Heat title winner, Shane Battier played a grand total of 12 minutes in Games 5, 6, and 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana. He played exactly zero minutes in Game 7 of that series. ZERO. In Game 7 last night, he played 29 minutes, went 6 for 8 from the field (all threes), and perhaps most importantly, received continued affirmation that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey just might, might, consider leaving his wife for Shane Battier:
I love @ShaneBattier— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) June 21, 2013
3. Kahwi Leonard
Hard to believe that this kid turns 22 next week. After averaging 15/10 in the series, harassing LeBron defensively into three subpar games to start the series, and for large chunks of Games 6 and 7 playing like the second best player on the floor, 2013-14 is going to be a fascinating season for Leonard. There is little doubt that this is the guy Popovich and Spurs fans see as the next big foundation piece to keep the Spurs above the line of prominence heading into the next decade, post Timmy and Manu (and probably Tony, eventually). These playoffs were a fantastic start.
2. LeBron James
Before the series, I picked the Heat in seven games with the main reason being they had LeBron James on their team, and the Spurs did not. It took a few games to get going, and really didn't kick into high gear until Game 6, but eventually this series boiled down to just that: under any filtering criteria, LeBron James is the greatest player walking the earth. Big games, late in games, elimination games, regular season games, playoff games, reindeer games, board games, drinking games, whatever. He is now in the multiple title club, and has two at age 28, same as Michael Jordan. That's where this is now officially going. This is Tiger chasing Jack, but in basketball. (With apologies to Bill Russell and his 11 titles, for most modern era fans, these are considered the two greatest players. I'm ducking for cover as all the Russell fans in their seventies dislocate their shoulders throwing Geritol bottles at me.) Old lion's 1990's legacy versus young lion's new millennium charge. Man, this was so close to being a miserable offseason for LeBron James. So close. But he got it done. Somehow, some way.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about the Internet (other than ordering pizza without talking to a human, iTunes, and Paulina Gretzky's Instagram account) is that we get gambling odds at the virtual second that they are released in the desert. The first cork hadn't even been launched out of a champagne bottle last night when R.J. Bell of pregame.com tweeted out the first set of odds for next season, and for the first time in a long time, we didn't have to get very far down the list before getting to the Rockets:
2013-14 NBA Title Odds
Miami Heat 3/1
OKC Thunder 7/1
San Antonio Spurs 10/1
Chicago Bulls 11/1
Indiana Pacers 16/1
LA Clippers 20/1
Houston Rockets 22/1
Seventh! Perhaps Vegas has heard Dwight Howard rumblings? We'll see.