MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James can rest as long as he wants.
He’s now a two-time NBA champion — and a two-time Finals MVP.
After two years of almost-constant basketball, James still found a way to be at his absolute best in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He scored 37 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and simply controlled everything down the stretch, as the Heat won the title with a 95-88 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.
Two days after helping the Heat survive a wild Game 6 in overtime, James’ final numbers went like this: 12 for 23 from the field, 5 for 10 from 3-point range, 8 for 8 from the line.
And in a season where he was the league’s MVP for a fourth time, he’s now added a second ring to the collection. Suddenly, his resume is looking as complete as some of the other all-time greats. Nor should he. Here’s a club: He joined Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the only players in league history to win back-to-back Finals MVP and regular-season MVP awards.
“Listen, I can’t worry about what everybody says about me,” James said, as confetti fell around him. “I’m LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 with James on the back, I’m blessed. So what everybody says about me off the court, don’t matter. I ain’t got no worries.”
Dwyane Wade scored 23 points and won his third NBA title. Shane Battier — benched earlier in these playoffs — had 18 on six 3-pointers and said “it’s better to be timely than good,” afterward. Mario Chalmers scored 14 for the Heat, who won despite no points from Chris Bosh.
It didn’t matter. James was good enough to mask any problem the Heat had Thursday night.
He rarely acknowledges this much, but James has to be exhausted. He worked out furiously during the lockout in 2011, in part because he convinced himself that the season would begin on time, in part because he was still smarting from how sub-par he played during the Finals loss to the Mavericks in his first season with the Heat.
Last season began on Dec. 25, 2011. The Heat went through the rigors of that ultra-compacted 66-game schedule and won a title. James went right into training with USA Basketball, eventually helping that team win a gold medal at the London Olympics. After that, he took about two weeks off, then starting getting ready for this season, which went all the way down to the last possible day.
That’s more basketball, under more pressure, than anyone else on the planet in the last two years.
And yet there he was, a second straight championship at stake, taking the jumper with 27.9 seconds left that made it a two-possession game. He marched back to the Heat huddle, punching the air. The score was 92-88, everyone in the sold-out building seemed to be standing, and a championship celebration was mere moments away.
“I put a lot of work into it and to be able to come out here and see the results happen out on the floor is the ultimate, the ultimate,” James said. “I’m at a loss for words.”
Two years ago, James probably wouldn’t have taken that shot.
Now, there’s no way he would not. And he drilled it, too, the ball going through with a soft swish for his 34th and 35th points.
“Practice,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, asked how James makes his life work under constant scrutiny. “That’s the world he’s lived in. This was an adjustment for us three years ago when we always looked out into a sea of people like this. I’ll still always remember that first training camp. LeBron was doing that since he was in seventh grade. So he probably knows how to manage this world better than any of us before he even got to us.”
James arrived at the arena in a convertible on Thursday, waving to the fans who were waiting to take a photo. An hour or so later, standing at his locker, he tried to insist that Game 7 was obviously huge but would have to be treated really like any other game.
In short, that was his way of saying that he cannot change the way he plays now.
Then he went out and did what he does best, making the right plays, hoping they become winning plays.
On the possession after James made the jumper for the four-point late lead, he got into the passing late and intercepted a ball thrown wildly by San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili with 23.5 seconds left and was immediately fouled.
The first free throw went in, and James stepped off the line to set up Miami’s defense.
The second free throw dropped as well, and James made a beeline for Ginobili, dribbling upcourt. Ginobili took a 3-pointer that the regular-season MVP contested, and it sailed well wide of the rim.
That was the Spurs’ last gasp. It was over. The Heat reign will continue for another year, and so will James’ spot as the unquestioned best player in the world.
“This is the hardest series we ever had to play,” Wade said. “This is what it’s all about.”
Including playoffs, the Heat became just the 10th team in NBA history to win at least 80 games — they won 82 this season. And like the other nine, the Heat won it all.
James will be getting married this summer. Another ring ceremony awaits him this fall when Miami tries for a three-peat. And a season that began with the addition of Ray Allen to a championship core, saw a 27-game winning streak, even a “Harlem Shake” video that broke up some needed midseason tension, it ended with Miami in the same place it was a year ago — on top of the basketball world
“They pushed us to the limit,” James said.
Near the limit, maybe. James found a way to hold off everything the Spurs threw his way.
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