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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.”

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

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.