And that’s it. LeBron James has his ring—121-106, Miami.
It seemed like just minutes ago certain not-great-at-prognosticating commentators were predicting an epic seven-game series. But it’s over. The Miami Heat won four straight. James got his. The Oklahoma City Thunder, while they probably had a long, painful flight back home, can still look forward to years of Western Conference dominance—and a ring or two of their own—if they can keep their supremely talented core intact and grow up just a little.
Miami smoldered in the first half, shooting 11 of 19 from the field, getting big contributions not just from their big three, but also in the form of three-pointers from Shane Battier and Norris Cole—and even two from the very hurt, and up to that point in the series, invisible Mike Miller. It was still a game a quarter in, but in retrospect there was a fair amount of foreshadowing taking place.
The Thunder hung around for a while. And when they stopped hanging around, when the game exploded out of hand, it was partially because of their nagging inability to convert easy, key plays. Early in the second quarter, Russell Westbrook missed a dunk that would have tied it, which led to a breakaway tip-in from Dwyane Wade at the other end (the next time down, a wide-open James Harden three rolled in and out). Then, in the third quarter, Kevin Durant blocked a LeBron James shot beautifully, and was dribbling up the floor in transition with a chance to cut the Heat lead to two or three. Instead, an ill-advised, uncharacteristic around-the-back dribble led to a steal and a Mario Chalmers three. In a building keyed to explode, plays like this matter—there’s a huge difference between a tie and a four-point deficit. By the end of the quarter the Heat had gone up 24.
The real reason for the blowout, however, was that in addition to a brilliant game from James, the Heat got sensational three-point shooting—14 of 26, or 54 percent. They—and anyone, really—are simply unbeatable when they are shooting treys at that clip. Miller netted 23 points on seven of eight shooting from behind the arc, a gutsy performance that Heat fans will be telling their grandkids about. The load carried by the Heat’s second-stringers was of a piece with what we had seen in Games 1 through 4; throughout the whole series, the Heat enjoyed the all-important Contributions From Others (Chalmers and Shane Battier, mostly, with some Miller and Norris Cole thrown in) that seem to be a prerequisite for a successful championship run. Where were the Thunder’s Contributions From Others? Virtually nonexistent.
As for the officiating, I had refrained from complaining about the refs at all for the first four games of the series. While the Thunder did seem to suffer disproportionately from the bad calls (how the hell did Westbrook only take three foul shots in his dazzling, slashing Game 4?), this is such an easy road to go down. Why do so when the Thunder had every opportunity to win each of the first four games in the series simply by making a play here, a play there?
But the flagrant foul issued to Derek Fisher in the third quarter was one of the worst calls you’ll ever see. You could watch a decade of basketball and not see such an outrageous officiating injustice. All Fisher did was get in the way of James. Yes, it was a violent collision, but that’s because James is a 250-pound freight train and Fisher, despite being short, is built rather sturdily himself. The Heat’s offensive barrage was just about at high tide by then anyway, but it’s a play that explains why there’s so much griping and paranoia about NBA officiating. All it takes to draw a flagrant foul, apparently, is to be a superstar involved in a violent collision.
LeBron James has lived up to the hype.
The biggest story, of course, is James, who cemented his first ring with a triple-double, who all series showed a level of physical, bruising play that was in absence last year. At 27, after coming into the league the most hyped rookie in league history, he’s lived up to the hype.
Beyond all the hype and controversy and the idiotic, disastrous TV special—which was what, two summer ago already?—that’s sort of all you can say about James at this point: He’s lived up to all the hype. As unlikely as it is that he’ll ever be a consensus pick as the greatest player of all time, halfway through his career, first ring in hand, he’s on track to be in the running. You can hate him all you want, but given the weight of expectations he’s been playing under for more than a decade, that’s pretty damn impressive.