Heat Repeat!

From the beginning of the season, when the new look Lakers came together and through OKC’s ups and downs and the Spurs rise, I had one point: The Heat Will Repeat.

They did. 

LeBron games had a legacy game and when it mattered most he came up with one of the best games of his career.  In fact, with his back against the wall twice he came through and managed to win two incredibly tight games.  The Heat will go down as one of the best teams of all time and rightly so.  They have the best player in the world (and one of the top six ever) and they are back to back champs – the first since the Lakers. 

Huge contributions from role players again and one of the most clutch performances ever by James.  Welcome LeBron, to the Pantheon.

 

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Game 7…Again! Nothing Easy! Nothing Easy!

At three points last night I said the following: “It is over, the Spurs are NBA Champions.”  Once when they went up ten, again when they seemed to rise above LeBron’s frantic and incredible charge and again when they were up 5 with less than 30 seconds to go. 

It was in the bag for them.  They were the 2013 Champs – and then they were not.

How in the world did the most incredible finals game and finish transpire?  Hang on for the ride because I am pretty sure I had three to four heart attacks last night.

Firstly, the LeBron three was huge.  After a grotesque miss where he had no chance of ever making it (despite a relatively open look), LBJ made a ridiculous and much more difficult three – again stepping up when it mattered most.  Then, the turnovers have to be mentioned, but sans headband Bron stepped it up and won this game for Miami.  A quick aside: when he lost the headband I was pretty sure the game was over.  How could he summon his will one last time without his most important accessory?  Huge game from LBJ and it definitely goes beyond his triple double.  He shut down Tony Parker very effectively and came through on a night that not everyone showed up.  Wade was genuinely horrible in this game and LeBron dragged this team back from the brink despite some horrible shot choices from his running mate.

Secondly, Ray Allen is a legend.  He takes an off balance, hand in his face, fadeaway three to tie the game…and hits it (for the record, heart attack number one)  Clutch beyond clutch – and a huge eff you to Danny Green.  This was a game for men and Ray Allen made the biggest shot.

Thirdly, if Ray Allen is a legend, Chris Bosh is even more of a legend.  Bosh went nuts defensively in this game, particularly at the end.  Every meaningful shot the Spurs took he swatted – including both Danny Green and Tony Parker.  Bosh blocked shots at the end of regulation and overtime (heart attacks two and three if you are counting).  He tipped out the most important rebound of the game to give Ray Allen his impossible shot.  Quite simply he played one of the most incredible and indelible games of his career.  When the Heat claim the title, this game will illustrate just how valuable Bosh is – did he get roasted by a legendary Tim Duncan performance?  Bosh was killed by Duncan earlier in the game but by the end it seemed like he had six blocks and single handedly led the Heat’s ridiculous swarming defense.  As I said before: the man is a legend.

Finally, Game Seven!!!!!! Nothing easy, and nothing without being truly earned.  Last season, LeBron learned exactly what it takes to win a title and he showed he remembered when he turned it on to score 16 points in the 4th quarter of this game.  This is the best player in the world, stepping up and proving exactly who he is.  This is about legacy and this is about champions stepping up and winning when it matters most.  It will not be easy, because it never is.  The right path, never is and if it was not hard, it would ultimately not be worth it. 

In 2013 the Heat will repeat.

Witness – Five of the Best Playoff Performances in NBA History

With Chris Bosh, LeBron and DWade combining for one of those, “greatest ever performances” last night it got me thinking about other incredible NBA feats I have seen and remember.  In my life there have been some pretty incredible athletic feats – many of which were detailed in a previous post entitled: The Greatest Performances I Have Ever Seen (in which I welcomed Denard Robinson to a very, very select club).  This is slightly different because it is, well, basketball oriented.  Only the Playoffs will count and only my recollections can be used to fill in the gaps – so please do not kill me for the lack of exact stats.

WARNING: A TON OF HYPERBOLE IS GOING TO FOLLOW IMMEADIATELY

Stone Face LeBron makes his first appearance – The stakes could not have been higher: a legacy was on the line, a team was on the line and never before has one player faced the scrutiny that LBJ was under when he faced down with Boston in Game Six in 2012.  For him, in the wake of two playoff collapses everything was on the line (silly when you remember the fact that he dragged objectively the worst team to make the NBA Finals there when his Cavs made it to the big show).  The pressure was intense and the media was going out of their mind…and then he showed up.  Stone Face LeBron.  On the bench before the game was a guy we had never seen before; a guy who was not interacting with his teammates but was rather so in the zone it was absolutely ridiculous.  He stood apart – a man absolutely possessed by what he had to accomplish.  Then, with more weight on his shoulders than he had any right to carry, the best player in the world delivered a stunning performance that left no doubt he firmly belongs in the Pantheon of Greatest Players Ever.  As Bill Simmons wrote, he essentially assassinated the Boston Celtics Big Three that night.  Absolutely killed them – and everyone else in the arena.  The numbers are mind blowing: 45 points, 11 boards on nearly 75% shooting.  Every time he shot it went in.  He could not miss.  His face never changed the whole game.  He played angry, focused and with an intensity rarely seen since Jordan.  He single-handedly won the series and slaughtered the Celtics.  Instantly his doubters were done and he had cemented himself as an all-time great.  In that moment the title was essentially won – when he wanted to, no one could stop LeBron.  In the playoffs we have seen further appearences by Stone Face LeBron (usually in a must win situation) and when he shows up the Heat win, period.   

MJ closes out the Jazz – His final game was not his best, but for me it is one of the most memorable performances he ever had.  The title had to be won that night, and MJ used guile, guts and experience to do so.  His Bulls were absolutely running on fumes and yet, to me, there was never a doubt that they would win the title.  They had to – they had MJ and he never lost.  In this one the shots were certainly not falling – and yet he still finished with more than 40 points in a close out game of his second threepeat.  How?  By getting to the line an insane amount of times.  Jordan knew he had to attack the basket and he did so with an absolute vengeance.  The final moments are indelibly inked in my mind: layup, steal, push and then jumper to seal it.  Was missing that shot ever any option?  No way.  Not for Michael Jordan.  Never.

Robert Horry…every freaking time – For a while during the 2010-2012 seasons I feared Derek Fisher would suddenly turn into the new Robert Horry: a man who lived to take the biggest of shots.  No player has ever scared me more than Robert Horry.  Every time he ever lined up a shot in a big moment it went in.  Every freaking time.  The man could not miss when it mattered (occasionally he could rarely make shots when it didn’t) and I will never forget the fear I felt when he got open.  The man worked off screens like a maniac and when he got the ball, and always seemed to be open, I always remember screaming “Nooooooo!” because, inevitably the ball was going in.  Horry simply did not miss; not as a Spur, a Rocket or a Laker.  Horry may not have ever been a superstar, but he left me shaking my head in disbelief and anguish more than anyone else ever has, and likely ever will.

Kobe goes 6 for 24 and still….nope, just kidding.

Grandma’s 4 Point Miracle – Larry Johnson is a guy who injures robbed of true greatness, but he will live forever in my mind due to his ridiculous 4 point play to beat Indiana.  The Knicks were down three, had to get some sort of miracle shot to tie and ended up winning the game.  Period.  The best part: LJ’s reaction to being fouled and watching his chucked three go in.  He runs all the way to the free throw line on the other side of the court before suddenly realizing that he still has to hit a free throw.  The play is even more remarkable than I remember, because with 11 seconds left, Johnson had to fight off two defenders, get loose and then threw up a shot with his legs splaying in two totally different directions.  And it went in.  It went in.  There have been miracle, chucked up shots before but this one is different, mostly because I have never seen anything like it since.  No one else has won a game with an insane four point play.  Simply, absolutely, totally incredible.  Sure they got smoked by the Spurs but it is all good.  Larry Johnson and his three point play live on four-ever.

DWade does it all – When Shaq left LA in a huff to team with young, emerging Wade in Miami it seemed like a match made in heaven: especially when Wade carried the Heat to their first title with one of the most incredible performances in Finals history.  Sure it is slightly tainted by the huge amount of free throws the Heat shot, but you cannot diminish the fact that Wade scored nearly 36 points per game and carried the Heat to the title.  He was unstoppable going to the basket, and his finish around the rim was breathtaking.  Shaq had some incredible performances during the Lakers three year run, but none were anywhere near as memorable as that of Wade.  Tainted or not, his series against Dallas remains a testament to his abilities and understanding of what it takes to win basketball’s ultimate prize.

Who did I miss?  The Twin Towers almost made this list but what Kobe performance or Paul Pierce gem should be here?

No One Beats Stone Face LeBron

Once again the Heat have battled back against the Spurs and won a decisive victory.  This time it was not the role players who stepped up, but rather the Big 3 who came through when the series was on the line.  From the outset it was clear that this was a very different Heat team – they were aggressive, went to the basket and drew contact and fouls. 

What can you say about DWade / Bosh and LeBron?  They were the best players on the court and at every turn they proved it.  When a little thing needed doing (a loose ball, a jump ball, a scramble or tip) they did it.  Time and again they created turnover with their speed and athleticism, and they used those turnovers to their advantage to score points.  When they went to the basket there was no fear or hesitation, and when they had a chance to score emphatically they definitely took it.

The best example:  Chris Bosh throwing down a dunk when time had already expired.  It was a rousing moment – foolish even due to the fact it was a close game Miami had to win – but for Bosh and the team it truly meant something.  Miami had to have a spark and Bosh provided it.  Confidence and better shot selection followed.  Wade was on, Bosh was on and LBJ was simply unstoppable going to the hoop.  Leonard suddenly looked more and more like an overmatched Paul George than the confident stopper he was in the previous contest.  Defensively, Miami was a different team.  They got out to the three point line and contested every single shot.  They got steals, they got blocks and they made San Antonio work.  Truly if the Spurs are going to live and die by the three ball, Miami is going to at least make them earn it.  Each and every time. 

Suddenly, this is starting to look like San Antonio vs. OKC a season ago.  We forget that people were touting those Spurs as among the best teams in NBA history, or they were until OKC ran them off the floor in four straight games.  Now the Spurs had Miami against the wall and the Heat have responded with an astounding display of unity. 

The bottom line is this: when the Big Three play like this – James and Wade over thirty points each, Bosh with twenty – the Heat are unstoppable.  They have the best basketball player in the world playing like, Wade and Bosh contributing and a ferocious defense.  Remember this is not 2011, and the Heat have the confidence to know who they are as a team when their backs are against the wall. 

No one, I repeat, no one, beats Stone Faced LeBron.  Heat fans have to hope he continues to show up for the remainder of the series. 

Nothing Easy – Game 7

The NBA’s best new rivalry now demands a climactic game seven in a series that has been marked more by those who have played poorly than those who have shined.  Miami had a chance to put this series away and then watched as LeBron James did everything in his power to make it so while Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade struggled mightily.  The Pacers seem to have adopted a smart strategy of shutting everyone else down and hoping that LBJ does not beat them too badly. 

Last night it worked all too well.

The Heat and Pacers have gone back and forth and forth and back in this series and Game 7 promises to be no different.  However, the only question that matters in deciding the outcome of this series is very, very simple: which LeBron will show up? 

Are we in for an absolute classic performance by stone-face LeBron?  Remember that this is no longer a man who does not know what it takes to win – he has proven he can with his ring from last year.  Rather, the pressure is firmly on the shoulders of the young Pacers, many of whom have already shown they can get under the skin of Miami players.  The Heat should benefit though from their experience and also from the return of the Chris “I have yet to miss a shot against Indy” Birdman Anderson.  Roy Hibbert should have a significantly tougher time getting his shots to fall with the Birdman in his way. 

However, any way your slice this game Miami needs contributions from Wade and Bosh.  When the Heat put the Pacers away last year it was due to an almost superhuman effort from DWade (Bosh of course was still on the shelf) and Miami needs him to rediscover his scoring touch.  This is a tough matchup for Miami and they need to be able to exploit it where they can (ie. Bosh hitting some 20 footers!). 

LeBron though, could be in for an epic performance (think 45+ points with 65% shooting) and that will be the difference.  Miami wins.