That was about right.
The Miami Heat wasn’t supposed to play a Game 7 during the team’s inevitable march to a second straight NBA championship. At least not before the NBA Finals. Remember, Miami had one of the best regular seasons of all time; the Heat won 27 straight games at one point. The ’96 Bulls, ’86 Celtics, ’83 Philadelphia 76ers, the ’72 Lakers — none of those all-time teams were stretched to seven in the playoffs.
But here was Miami, facing elimination in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night. The Heat had been unable to finish off the young, long, confident Indiana Pacers. Center Roy Hibbert was revelation, playing like the best center in the NBA. Paul George was, dare we say, LeBron-like. And the two other members of Miami’s so-called “Big Three” — Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — had disappeared. Wade even seemed to be sniping at LeBron’s shot selection, while LeBron mentioned that he started playing like he did in Cleveland; in other words, he lifted his inferior teammates. That includes you, Dwyane.
This wasn’t the time for infighting. Going in, this Game 7 for the Eastern Conference championship had the feel of a tight slugfest. Maybe Miami would be slugging each other.
But there they were, Bosh, Wade, and James, lounging on the bench together with over a minute left in the game, their team up by 26 points. The didn’t exactly look joyous; Wade and Bosh had forlorn faces. Maybe they felt guilty for waiting until Game 7 to show up. But they looked like guys who just took care of business: Miami crushed the upstart Pacers, 99-76.
James and Wade were spectacular. James finished with 32 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. (In four career Game 7s, James is averaging 33.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. With each game, his legend grows). While he had talked about Cleveland, he played like Miami LeBron, looking to involve his teammates early; James didn’t take any of Miami’s first 14 shots, which helped Wade get in rhythm. Wade looked like his old self, as he scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Bosh only had 9 points, but grabbed a series-high eight boards.
So now, the Finals most basketball fans wanted, at least after Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook tore his meniscus in the first round–leaving the Thunder shorthanded–start on Thursday: Miami-San Antonio. A Spurs championship would give Tim Duncan a fifth title, and a remarkable 14-year gap between his first (1999) and his latest. San Antonio will either be rested or rusty: the Spurs last played on May 27, when they finished a tidy sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Regular season results are rarely safe predictors for the playoffs, and even less so for these Finals. The Heat won both games against the Spurs, but in the first one, a 105-100 Miami win in November, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker home — it’s a long season, you know — causing David Stern to flip out. In San Antonio in March, the Heat won 88-86, even though James and Wade didn’t play for Miami.
One thing the hoop-nerd in me is thinking about: LeBron handles a fair share of the Heat’s point guard duties. He also finished second in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting. San Antonio’s best player is point guard Tony Parker. So does Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put James on Parker, to try to disrupt San Antonio’s offense at the start of each possession> The risk: LeBron gets a bit tired chasing Parker around.
But he’s LeBron. What can’t that guy do this year? No more game sevens for him this year. Heat in six.