LeBron James Dominates as Miami Heat Win Second Straight ChampionshipLeBron James authored one of the greatest seventh game performances in NBA Finals history, winning his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP and his second consecutive championship after carrying the Miami Heat to a 95-88 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. James scored an NBA Finals career-high 37 points on 12-23 field goal shooting (including 5-10 from three point range), grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds and passed for a team-high four assists. James tied Tommy Heinsohn's 1957 record for the most points scored in an NBA Finals game seven by a member of the winning team. James played a game-high 45 minutes and he guarded multiple positions, including spending a lot of time smothering San Antonio's All-Star point guard Tony Parker. James hit the jump shot that put the Heat up 92-88 with :27.9 remaining and then he stole the ball before making two free throws to clinch the win. He averaged 25.3 ppg, 10.9 rpg and 7.0 apg in the NBA Finals, leading his team in all three categories by wide margins; James averaged 25-10-7 in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year--an NBA Finals stat line that no other player has equaled even once--and he joined Bill Russell and Michael Jordan as the only players who won both a championship and the regular season MVP in consecutive seasons. James averaged 25.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg and 6.6 apg during the 2013 playoffs while shooting .491 from the field, .375 from three point range and .777 from the free throw line.
James' production can best be described by two words: "great" and "necessary." There are many perks, awards and honors that come with being the best basketball player in the world but that status also carries with it a tremendous responsibility, something that James understands much better now than he did earlier in his career. Great players do not put up ordinary statistics in the NBA Finals; great players dominate the NBA Finals and impose their will on the opposing team. In the first three games of the 2013 NBA Finals, James scored 18, 17 and 15 points as the Heat fell behind two games to one; in the final four games of the series, James scored 33, 25, 32 and 37 points as the Heat won three times to capture the title. There are many statistics and strategies from this series that can be discussed and analyzed but the bottom line is that when James was a 16.7 ppg scorer in the first three games the Heat were headed for a very disappointing loss but when James averaged 31.8 ppg in the final four games he carried the Heat to the championship. James is an all-around player who can rebound, pass and defend at a very high level but his greatest attribute--no matter what anyone says--is that he is one of the best scorers in pro basketball history.
James' primary job is not to pass the ball or defer to others; his primary job is to score at least 25 ppg. The same thing is true of Kobe Bryant--and every time Bryant led the Lakers to the NBA Finals after the creation of this web site I wrote that he needed to average at least 25 ppg while shooting at least .450 from the field: that is the standard and that standard has nothing to do with "loving" one player or "hating" another player. James averaged 25.3 ppg on .447 field goal shooting versus the Spurs and the Heat did not clinch the championship until the final seconds of the seventh game at home--and they easily could have lost the championship in the final seconds of game six. James had a great series by the standards of most NBA players but he also barely met the 25 ppg/.450 threshold and that is why his team barely won; if he had performed better in the first three games then this series would not have lasted seven games but if he had not stepped up to the challenge in the final four games then the Heat would have lost. That is part of the confusing legacy of James: he is a great player who has already won two championships and may very well win several more championships but he has a strange propensity to not play his game when the stakes are highest. Maybe the glimpses he provides of his talent raise expectations to unreasonable levels--but I don't fault James for missing shots in the first three games as much as I fault him for not being aggressive enough. In the fourth quarter of game six and during most of game seven, James played decisively: he shot open jump shots without hesitation and he relentlessly drove to the hoop whenever he had the opportunity to do so. Any objective observer has to admit that James played very tentatively during the first three games, hesitating to shoot open jumpers and shying away from attacking the hoop.
Despite all of the talk about James not receiving enough help during his Cleveland years, consider these numbers: his 2007 team that reached the NBA Finals had three players who averaged between 11.3 and 12.6 ppg during the postseason, his 2008 team had three players who averaged between 10.8 and 13.1 ppg during the postseason, his 2009 team had three players who averaged between 10.5 and 16.3 ppg during the postseason and his 2010 team had three players who averaged between 11.5 and 15.3 ppg during the postseason. What about this year's Miami Heat featuring two perennial All-Stars other than James plus future Hall of Famer Ray Allen? Three Heat players averaged between 10.2 ppg and 15.9 ppg during the playoffs. Only four Heat players other than James scored in game seven and one of them, Chris Andersen, contributed just three points; both Chris Bosh and Ray Allen did not score, though Bosh made some key defensive plays and Allen matched James with four assists. No matter how you slice the numbers or analyze the skill sets of the Cleveland players and the Miami players, the reality is that for a team to win a championship the best player must not only post great numbers but he also must dominate the action down the stretch of close games. James has won two championships in Miami after failing to win a championship in Cleveland because James has improved his skill set, strengthened his mindset and committed himself to consistently dominating playoff games versus elite competition. If he had posted a 20-10-10 triple double in game seven that might have looked great on paper to some people but the Heat would have lost; James has an obligation to be a big-time scorer and he fulfilled that obligation in the 2012 NBA Finals and the 2013 NBA Finals after failing to do so in the 2011 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals. Revisionist historians are eager to say that James has now refuted his critics but the truth is that James heeded some very valid critiques, worked hard to improve himself as a player and as a person and now he is reaping the rewards of that self-improvement.
Dwyane Wade was ineffective--and at times looked indifferent--during most of the 2013 playoffs but he played with tremendous energy and aggressiveness in game seven. He not only scored 23 points on 11-21 field goal shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds but he also made several hustle plays. For someone who says that he does not talk about injuries, Wade talks about his injuries a lot but I do not doubt that he really is injured and he deserves credit for saving his best for last, even if it seems like maybe he could have done a little more earlier in the playoffs; some people act like it is a crime against humanity to criticize Wade but, even after he boosted his statistics with his performances in games six and seven, he averaged a career-low 15.9 ppg during the 2013 playoffs and he only surpassed the 20 point plateau four times in his 22 playoff games.
Chris Bosh shot 0-5 from the field but he grabbed seven rebounds and he played excellent defense; the Heat left him on an island one on one versus Duncan, which enabled the Heat's perimeter players to smother the Spurs' perimeter players and hold them to 6-19 (.316) three point shooting. Bosh rarely touched the ball on offense, so it is not fair to judge his performance based on his scoring; on one play he approached Wade to set a screen but Wade turned the ball over and then glared at Bosh for daring to venture over to the strong side of the court when Wade wanted to go one on one. The Heat do not utilize Bosh like the eight-time All-Star that he is but they instead treat him like a glorified Horace Grant, someone who is expected to do the dirty work and occasionally hit a spot up jumper.
Championship teams often have a role player who makes a major, unexpected contribution during their playoff run; Shane Battier put his name alongside John Paxson, Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher by scoring 18 points while shooting 6-8 from three point range, tying the record for most three pointers made in a seventh game of the NBA Finals. Battier received the dreaded DNP-CD (Did Not Play--Coach's Decision) during Miami's 99-76 game seven win against Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals but when Coach Erik Spoelstra called Battier's number in this game seven Battier responded with a clutch performance.
Tim Duncan had a very good overall game--24 points on 8-18 field goal shooting, 12 rebounds, four steals--but he admitted that he will forever be haunted by his critical late game mistakes, including two missed shots from point blank range that could have tied the score. Tony Parker looked completely drained, which is what happens when a small player is hounded by a much bigger and more athletic defender--especially if that defender is LeBron James. Parker had 10 points on 3-12 field goal shooting, plus four assists and three steals; he is an excellent player and he has been a key member of the ensemble cast for three San Antonio championship teams but--as Bill Russell mentioned before game six--Duncan is San Antonio's most valuable player. Anyone who doubts that size matters in pro basketball or who thinks that a small point guard can be the best player on a championship team should look very carefully at what happened in the final two games of this series: James dominated at both ends of the court and played a major role in shutting down Parker, while Parker had very little impact offensively or defensively. Size is significant not just because it affects what a player can and cannot do in a game but also because a smaller player is more likely to become worn down by the end of a long series than a bigger player is.
Manu Ginobili's overall FIBA/NBA resume will likely earn him induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame but the 2013 NBA Finals will not provide many clips for his career highlight video. He finished game seven with 18 points, five assists, four turnovers and a +6 plus/minus rating, providing an excelllent example of how misleading statistics can be; with the result up for grabs in the final 7:14, Ginobili committed three turnovers--including fumbling an easily catchable pass out of bounds plus firing two horribly off target passes that were easily stolen--and shot an air ball from three point range. Ginobili's butter fingers had a lot to do with San Antonio fumbling away the championship, regardless of what the numbers might suggest.
The good news for every future Hall of Famer in this series not named LeBron James is that so much attention is focused on James' legacy that few people care that much about the performances of any other player; Parker's late-series fade, Duncan's miscues at the end of game seven and Ginobili's atrocious ballhandling throughout the series will all be ignored by the vast majority of people who are trying to determine where James ranks among the greatest players in pro basketball history. I focus a lot of my coverage on James, too, but the performances of Wade, Duncan, Parker and Ginobili should at least be mentioned. Wade's excellent showings in games six and seven elevated his series scoring average to 19.6 ppg and he shot a very solid .476 from the field; he was not dominant but overall he was an effective second option. Duncan averaged 18.9 ppg and a series-high 12.1 rpg while shooting .490 from the field, which is about as much as can be reasonably expected from a 37 year old post player--and if the Spurs had closed out game six then he would have deserved serious NBA Finals MVP consideration. Parker averaged 15.7 ppg and 6.4 apg while shooting .412 from the field, numbers that are not good enough considering his role. Ginobili is only asked to be the third scoring option and second playmaking option but he averaged just 11.6 ppg (fifth on the team) and 4.3 apg (second on the team) while shooting .433 from the field and leading the NBA Finals with 3.1 turnovers per game despite only ranking ninth in the series in minutes played.
Two other Spurs should be mentioned. Kawhi Leonard tied James with 45 minutes played, finishing with 19 points and a game-high 16 rebounds; Leonard is an excellent rebounder/defender whose offensive game is still developing. Danny Green set three point shooting records during the first five games of this series but the Heat made a concerted effort to deny him open looks in games six and seven. Green scored five points on 1-12 field goal shooting in game seven; the Heat forced him to dribble instead of allowing him to catch and shoot and he looked extremely uncomfortable trying to make plays with a live dribble.
This series was notable not only for its great drama and high level of competitiveness but also because it thoroughly refuted the idea that it is necessary to hate and/or disrespect an opponent; after game seven, both teams demonstrated commendable sportsmanship as the players and coaching staffs exchanged hugs, handshakes and congratulations/consoling words. During the series there were no flagrant fouls, no technical fouls and no trash talk; rivalries are formed by great players making great plays, not by players doing a lot of extracurricular nonsense.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:20 AM