San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade stick together to lead Heat to championship

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LeBron James stood on the American Airlines Arena stage and clutched the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy. To his left, Dwayne held the the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy and rubbed it in amazement.

Friends, teammates and superstars, LeBron and Wade ended the 2013 season side by side as NBA champions, just as they’d always imagined.

LeBron wrapped his left arm around Wade’s shoulders and leaned in to share a few words with his partner in crime. They tucked their heads so close together, their eyes disappearing from view beneath their hats, it was tough to tell where one ended and the other began.

It was as if they were one.

The Heat have always marketed themselves as a three-superstar team, but only LeBron’s and Wade’s rising tide has elevated Chris Bosh to their status. Bosh has never been capable of leading a team to a championship the way LeBron did last season or Wade did in 2006. As important as Bosh is, this grand experiment in Miami was always more about LeBron and Wade.

And in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, it was LeBron and Wade out front, leading the Heat to a 95-88 victory and their second straight championship. LeBron (37 points and 12 rebounds) and Wade (23 points and 10 rebounds) posted double-doubles in the same game for the first time since March and for the first time in the playoffs since their very first series together, a first-round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers way back in 2011.

It was a fitting shared honor for two players whose play together had received intense scrutiny lately. Perhaps, you’ve seen some of these numbers:

LeBron in Games 1-6:

  • With Wade: 17.3 points per 36 minutes on 38.9 percent shooting, 100.8 offensive rating
  • Without Wade: 27.3 points per 36 minutes on 54.1 percent shooting, 131.7 offensive rating

Wade in Games 1-6:

  • With LeBron: 17.4 points per 36 minutes on 43.8 percent shooting, 100.8 offensive rating
  • Without LeBron: 32.7 points per 36 minutes on 62.5 percent shooting, 115.2 offensive rating

Many called for Erik Spoelstra to organize his rotation so LeBron and Wade each spent as much time as possible on the court without the other. Instead, Spoelstra went the other direction, playing LeBron and Wade together for 36 minutes in Game 7, more than they’d averaged together in the series’ first six games.

They didn’t necessarily get it done in tandem – Miami’s offensive rating in Game 7 with LeBron and not Wade on the court was 134.6 and with both on the court was 93.1, an even more extreme difference than in Games 1-6 – but they got it done together.

LeBron and Wade both scored at least the 23 points Wade had tonight in just three games after March 6. All three were in the Finals.

“They played Hall of Fame basketball tonight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said in his postgame press conference. “That’s some of the best basketball they both played at the same time throughout the entire playoffs.”

The truth is LeBron and Wade still haven’t completely figured out how to play together.

But they’ll be back next year to go through the process of learning how to complement each other – just as they’ve wanted to navigate this journey with the Heat, just as they’ve conducted nearly every interview in the last three years, just as they sat tonight while posing for celebratory post-game photos:

Side by side.

Friends, teammates and superstars, LeBron and Wade have helped each other top the NBA world once again.

Giannis Antetokounmpo called for 10-second violation on free throw (video)

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This Giannis Antetokounmpo 10-second violation was a year in the making.

Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, it was too little, too late. Antetokounmpo still finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, four blocks and two steals in the Bucks’ 115-107 win.

Iman Shumpert injures hand while missing open dunk (video)

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Plenty went right for the Cavaliers in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but there were a few snags.

LeBron James and his teammates repeatedly failed the water-bottle challenge in the closing moments (though Kyrie Irving eventually nailed it).

Kevin Love‘s nose malfunctioned.

And Iman Shumpert injured his hand while missing an open dunk.

If Shumpert was faking as an excuse for missing, he sold it hard. Defending 4-on-5 on the other end, Cleveland ceded a 3-pointer. Then, Shumpert remained hunched over while the Cavs brought the ball up-court. It seems Shumpert might have been popping back in a dislocated finger, which jibes with him staying in the game – and shows his toughness.

But it also doesn’t erase the shame of hurting yourself while missing an open dunk.

Gregg Popovich calls coaching Tim Duncan-less Spurs a ‘refreshing’ and ‘fun’ challenge

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues a call against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)–  For so many years, the San Antonio Spurs have been defined by their consistency, an unprecedented level of stability that has brought five championships and established the organization as a model franchise in professional sports.

The colors don’t change. The coach doesn’t change. The core never changed.

After 20 years and those five titles, change has finally come to San Antonio.

Tim Duncan, the tone setter from the moment he was drafted in 1997, retired last summer. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have taken reduced roles this season, and the Spurs brought in seven new faces as part of a rare roster shuffle as they try to retool around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It’s been at the same time a challenge and a refreshing sort of situation,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “The team is changing personnel-wise and where the ball goes and a few different players so we have to do things a little bit differently. There’s a give and take, strategy wise, to fit the group. It’s been a lot of fun. Watching some of the young guys get minutes and develop has been fun.”

Fun because while the faces have changed, the results have not. The Spurs (18-4) have navigated the bumps in the road that come with unfamiliarity and have the second-best record in the league, tied the star-studded Golden State Warriors (18-3) in the win column. They have started the season 13-0 on the road and can match last year’s Warriors for the best road start in league history with a win in Chicago on Thursday night.

It hasn’t always been pretty for these Spurs. They’re not the same ruthless, precise machine that steamrolled the league during championship runs. They have had to muddle through things, overcome mistakes and struggle while they get acclimated to one another.

Newcomers like six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, steady veteran David Lee, Argentinian point guard Nico Laprovittola and shot-blocking center Dewayne Dedmon have had to work hard to integrate into a culture that is as enduring as any.

“You could see it in our games. Sometimes our offense is stagnant, our defense isn’t moving well or in our help positions,” Leonard said. “We have a big playbook on the offensive end. It’s just hard to learn it. It was hard for me to learn it. I didn’t get it down until probably my second or third year. We’ve just got to keep giving a consistent effort and being into the game and into our playbook and just keep moving from there.”

The result has been a team that tends to start slow, fall behind and then gradually digs its heels in. They are 5-4 at home, where they only lost once all of last season. They’ve lost to the Magic at home, were thumped by the Clippers and have not recaptured the breathtaking form they showed in a 29-point win at Golden State on opening night. But the wins keep coming.

“I think the first eight to 10 games was the coaching staff trying to figure out what lineups we’re going to play and there were a lot of changes, a lot of trying what works best,” said Gasol, who signed as a free agent this summer. “But now I think there’s more consistency, there’s more defined lineups. Guys know when to come in, when they’re going to play and what’s expected of them.”

The Spurs have won 13 of their last 14 games, and Popovich has leaned on his core more than he has in years to get them off to a good start. Leonard and Aldridge both average more than 33 minutes per game, the first time San Antonio has had two players averaging that much playing time since 2008-09.

“It’s been interesting to see how the team develops and comes together and who the leaders will be without Timmy being that overriding factor for so long,” Popovich said.

Leonard, for years the ultra-quiet storm trooper of the Spurs army, has been much more vocal this season. Gasol’s personality and approach have been a perfect fit as most expected and Ginobili and Parker are still there to help filled the void left by Duncan’s retirement.

And little by little, the new guys are getting up to speed.

“They’ve done a great job of making it easy for us and for Pop to throw them into the fire and trust them to know the system,” Green said. “We’ll continue to help them and they will continue to be sponges and absorb it.”

Kyrie Irving sticks water-bottle challenge before Cavaliers-Knicks buzzer (video)

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The Cavaliers were trying the water-bottle challenge on the bench late in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but the national telecast showed Cleveland players only failing to flip a water bottle and have it land upright on the floor – including an erratic attempt from LeBron James that bounced onto the court.

Thankfully, the local post-game show had an angle of Kyrie Irving nailing the bottle flip just before the game ended, his toss just leaving his hands before the final buzzer. Count it!