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.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.