Miami Heat's James celebrates with the Eastern Conference championship trophy after they defeated the Indiana Pacers during Game 7 of their NBA Eastern Conference final basketball playoff in Miami

Heat rise to the occasion in NBA’s biggest game of the year

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You will read plenty of stats that explain why the Heat beat the Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami outrebounded Indiana for the first time this series. The Pacers turned the ball over more than any other game this series. Indiana hadn’t shot so poorly on both 2-pointers and 3-pointers in any game this series.

But my favorite number from this game doesn’t explain why the Heat beat the Pacers. It shows why the Heat beat the Pacers.

Miami, at one point tonight, had made 24-of-25 free throws.

That’s about five more made free throws than the players who attempted them, based on regular-season percentages, would be expected to make. The Heat certainly didn’t need the five extra points during their 99-76 win, but the level of focus necessary to make 24-of-25 free throws is rather astounding.

Despite 40 games with enough attempts to qualify, the Heat didn’t make 24-of-25 free throws at any point of a single game all season. And now they were doing it in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals? Incredible.

The Heat played at a level they hadn’t played all playoffs, and that’s why they won. Their free-throw percentage didn’t dip until they were already up 20 late, and it was OK to let their focus slip.

I don’t mean to disparage the Pacers, and I don’t believe the Heat coasted before tonight. They were playing a seventh game because they were approximately even through six games.

But there’s a level a Game 7 can extract from the players participating that a Game 6 cannot. It’s only human that players summon more from within themselves when moment calls for it. With the exception of only those who possess the rare mental acuity that gives them the ability to fool their own minds, maximum effort in Game 7 is higher than than maximum effort in Game 6.

In these biggest moments, the Heat have players who’ve proven their maximum level is supremely high.

LeBron James scored 48 points, including Cleveland’s final 25, in a double-overtime win over the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. Dwyane Wade averaged 34.7 points in the 2006 NBA Finals. Ray Allen has scored more points in a single playoff game (51) than any active player, and he set an NBA Finals record by making eight straight 3-pointers.

And here were those those three were carrying Miami in Game 7.

LeBron James (32 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals) hit numbers nobody has in a Game 7 in 25 years. Dwyane Wade (21 points) produced his highest-scoring game of since Game 2 of the first round. Ray Allen (10 points, 3-of-5 3-point shooting) shook off a 7-of-24 start to the series from beyond the arc.

The Heat never scored more than seven straight points in Game 7. They didn’t need a longer sustained run, because when Indiana fought back, Miami wasn’t fazed. The Heat have players who just know how to lock into these games.

There have been six Game 7s in the last two years. Miami has played in two and holds the two wins by the largest margins.

The Heat can win under many circumstances. But games like this are right their wheelhouse.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.