Heat beat Spurs in epic Game 7 to win 2013 NBA title

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MIAMI — The Miami Heat are the 2013 NBA champions. And the Spurs made them earn every last bit of that second straight title.

In a game fitting of what we’ve come to expect from these two teams in this series, LeBron James put on a jump-shooting display that resulted in his scoring 37 points, and being named the Finals MVP in leading the Heat to the championship in a dramatic 95-88 Game 7 win over the Spurs.

“It was odd, all year he had been the best perimeter jump shooter in the league, even though he’s an attacker and got to the rim, to the free‑throw line,” Erik Spoelstra said of LeBron’s outside shooting. “By the numbers he was phenomenal from 15 to 22 feet, and even from three. But their game plan was to really keep him out of the paint at all costs, and that meant giving him wide‑open looks. That was the case, and it probably messed with us a little bit. It takes you a little bit out of your normal rhythm. But eventually he was able to figure it out.”

James opened the game hitting just one of his first five shots, but finished it 12-of-23 from the field. Only three of his makes came in the paint, while four came in the range Spoelstra mentioned, and the last five were good from three-point distance.

The game opened with both teams a little tight, and the play was uneven and sloppy for a bit, perhaps due to the magnitude of the contest. The first quarter featured just 34 total points and seven combined turnovers, while neither team was able to shoot better than 37 percent from the field over the first 12 minutes.

Miami trailed 15-10 early, before Shane Battier hit three three-pointers to ignite an 11-1 run that seemed to get his team going. Battier finished with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from three-point distance, and this from a player that didn’t play due to a coach’s decision in his team’s last Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers.

“I believe in the basketball gods, and I felt that they owed me,” Battier said.

The Heat got 23 points and 10 rebounds from Dwyane Wade, who has been up and down this series due to dealing with a deep bone bruise in his knee. He was especially active in the first half with 14 and 6, and was especially thrilled at the postgame podium afterward.

“All the giddiness is the champagne talking,” Wade said. “This is sweet.  This is the sweetest one by far because of everything we’ve been through, everything I’ve been through individually and to get here to this moment, to have that kind of performance, that kind of game, help lead my team, it’s special, man. So special.”

The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair, with the Spurs erasing Miami’s lead of five points and getting up by two before the period’s final possession. But Mario Chalmers banked home a three-pointer from about 30 feet out at the buzzer to send the Heat into the fourth with the lead, 12 minutes away from the title.

Twice in the fourth, jumpers from James pushed the Heat’s lead to six, and a three from Battier did the same with 3:19 to play. But Tim Duncan immediately answered with an and-1 play on the other end, and a three from Kawhi Leonard a couple of possessions later had the Spurs back within two with two minutes remaining.

It began to feel like the reverse of Game 6 was happening to the Heat, who came back so furiously and so quickly to prevent the Spurs from winning the championship 48 hours earlier. Mario Chalmers missed two free throws, and the Spurs had a couple of chances to tie or take the lead, the closest coming on a play where Duncan spun past Battier in the lane and missed a close one, before missing the chance at the put-back, as well.

Duncan was understandably crushed by the game’s result, and said afterward that missing this chance to tie the game in the final moments would be something he’d think about for quite some time.

“Missing a layup to tie the game,” Duncan said. “Probably for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me.”

Then came the dagger from James, and fittingly, it was a midrange jumper that sealed it.

With the clock winding down to under 30 seconds remaining in the game, James dribbled at the top of the three-point arc. After a pseudo-screen from Chalmers briefly caused some defensive uncertainty between Tony Parker and Leonard, James found himself open from about 18 feet out on the right side. He collected himself, and just as he had done for the majority of the night, he buried the shot.

After it was all over, while flanked by both of the trophies he had just earned, James dissected his incredible shooting performance.

“I looked at all my regular season stats, all my playoff stats, and I was one of the best mid‑range shooters in the game,” he said. “I shot a career high from the three‑point line. I just told myself, don’t abandon what you’ve done all year. Don’t abandon now because they’re going under [on the screens]. Don’t force the paint. If it’s there, take it. If not, take the jumper. Just stay with everything you’ve worked on, the repetition, the practices, the off‑season training, no matter how big the stakes are, no matter what’s on the line, just go with it. And I was able to do that.”

James is the best player in the game, and he played like it in Game 7. Really, he did that for the majority of the series, in a Finals that was played at one of the highest levels that we’ve ever seen by both teams.

The accomplishment was made that much more special given all that the Heat had to overcome to repeat as champions.

“Last year when I was sitting up here with my first championship, I said it was the toughest thing I had ever done,” James said. “This year I’ll tell last year he’s absolutely wrong. This was the toughest championship right here, between the two.  I mean, everything that we’ve been throughout this postseason, especially in these Finals.

“We were down — we were scratching for our lives in Game 6 down five with 28 seconds to go. To be able to win that game and force a Game 7 is a true testament of our, I guess, perseverance, and us being able to handle adversity throughout everything. It meant a lot for us to be able to do that and force a Game 7 and be able to close out at home.”

Rockets’ Patrick Beverley says players “disrespecting game” by resting when healthy

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Former Bulls guard turned agent and podcaster B.J. Armstrong said on our podcast last week that no, players didn’t have DNP-rest days back when he played — but he added that might well have been different if they had the information on injuries that today’s teams and players have. He said they got tired, they got banged up, and they played through it. You can call that tough, but it likely took time, maybe years, off their career.

Houston’s Patrick Beverley is from that old-school mentality and said players are disrespecting the game if they don’t get out there when healthy. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I think that’s bulls—,” Beverley said after the Rockets’ 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. “I think that’s a disgrace to this league. I think that fans deserve better.

“I could care less about coaches asking players to rest or not. It’s up to you to play or not, and if you don’t, you’re disrespecting the game. And I don’t believe in disrespecting the game, because there was a time where I wasn’t playing in the NBA and I was trying to get here. So me resting, I feel like, is disrespecting me, disrespecting the name on the front of the jersey and disrespecting the name on the back of the jersey.”

It’s the coaches and the organizations telling players to rest, it’s rarely the players themselves, and the teams are doing it because they want their guys at their peak come the playoffs. If the goal is winning a title in June (or at least going deep into May) then not wearing guys down matters.

Everyone has their opinions on it, Gregg Popovich did a good job trying to explain the nuances, but the simple fact is player rest games are not going away. They did it back in Armstrong’s day too, they just called a sore ankle or back rather than rest. What helps lessen games stars have off is building more rest and days off into the schedule, which the NBA is trying to do. But that’s a challenge that will continue to be discussed.

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Westbrook, Harden showdown leaves MVP race same as it ever was

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How many teams did you get right in your Final Four bracket? For the record, I have one (North Carolina). Which is why I was watching a lot more NBA on Sunday than NCAA (that and it’s my job). Here are the big takeaways from Sunday.

1) Russell Westbrook gets 36th triple-double. James Harden lifts Rockets victory. The MVP race is the same as it ever was. If you wanted to make a case for Russell Westbrook as MVP, he gave you reason on Sunday in a showdown with James Harden and the Rockets. Westbrook dropped his 36th triple-double of the season with 39 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, and the Rockets could not stop him.

Harden put up numbers — 22 points on 15 shots, plus 12 assists — but his team got the win because he got help: 31 from Lou Williams, 24 from Trevor Ariza, and 24 from Eric Gordon. Williams had 18 points in the first half. As a team, the Rockets shot 63.3 percent overall and 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Harden has better teammates around him, but he is orchestrating them beautifully, he’s more efficient, and he’s lifting his team to higher heights. Westbrook is almost single-handedly carrying the Thunder offense by putting up historic numbers.

This game offered no clarity in the MVP race. In one of the closest, most interesting award races in years, your pick for MVP depends on how you want to define the award and its criteria. (And we’re not even getting into the legitimate case that can be made for Kawhi Leonard here. LeBron James is in the mix, too, although the recent stumbles of the Cavaliers may hurt his case.) We know where the Rockets organization stands.

Sunday’s Thunder/Rockets just an MVP showdown, it was a potential first round playoff matchup. On that front, the Rockets led by as many 25, and while the Rockets made a late push to get the lead down to single digits in the final couple minutes, but the Thunder couldn’t get stops, and the result was never really in doubt. It’s hard to see a playoff series going much differently, the Thunder just don’t defend well enough to slow Houston.

2) Celtics beat Heat, move into tie with Cavaliers for top record in the East. Boston just keeps on grinding, keeps on making enough plays, and keeps on winning. So much so that with a hard-fought win over the Heat on Sunday Boston finds itself tied with Cleveland for the top seed in the East (Boston has one more win, Cleveland has one fewer loss).

Boston may well finish on top, it has an easier schedule to close out the season. However, the big game — and what will determine who has the tiebreaker between the two — comes when the Celtics and Cavaliers play on April 5.

The Celtics got the win because they made crucial shots down the stretch, like this driving floater by Isaiah Thomas (who finished the night with 30 points).

Then Al Horford‘s block sealed the 112-108 victory.

For Miami, even with the loss they sit as the eight seed in the East, the final playoff spot, but Chicago is just half a game back, and the Pistons one game back. While the race could go any direction, the Bulls have the softest schedule the rest of the way of any of those three teams.

3) Blazers win, Nuggets lose, teams now tied for the eighth seed in the West. The race to be the team destroyed by the Golden State Warriors in the first round out West is heating up — Denver and Portland are now tied for the eight seed.

On Sunday, Denver had a sloppy loss at home as New Orleans came to town without DeMarcus Cousins, and yet Anthony Davis dropped 31 and the Pelicans won.

Portland got 22 from Damian Lillard and pulled away in the third quarter to beat the hapless Lakers, 97-81.

Denver and Portland play Tuesday night in what will be a huge game in that race.

Blazers beat Lakers 97-81, tie Denver for final spot in West

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 22 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-81 on Sunday night to pull even with Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Both the Blazers and Nuggets are 35-38 with nine games left in the regular season. They play each other Tuesday in Portland.

Denver lost at home to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier Sunday night.

Portland took control by outscoring the Lakers 37-24 in the third quarter and led by as many as 26 points. Los Angeles shot 39 percent from the field and was outrebounded 61-42.

Allen Crabbe added 18 points off the bench for the Blazers, and Noah Vonleh grabbed 14 rebounds.

D'Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 22 points, and reserve Tyler Ennis scored 14.

Portland led 40-32 at the break after an unsightly half in which the teams took turns struggling from the field. At halftime, both were shooting exactly 32.6 percent.

The Lakers won their previous game against the Timberwolves but have won consecutive games only once since mid-November.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Shot 62.4 percent against Minnesota on Saturday, their best mark since hitting 64.1 percent on March 12, 2003. Coming into Sunday, they had shot 50.6 percent over their last five games.

Lakers: Rookie forward Brandon Ingram, who started the previous 19 games and averaged 12.1 points on 48.4 percent shooting, did not play because of right patellar tendinitis. Said coach Luke Walton: “He was out there warming up and it’s not right.” Corey Brewer got his first start for the Lakers.

 

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.