The NBA is the Miami Heat’s World and Everyone Else is Just Paying Rent

The NBA is the Miami Heat’s World and Everyone Else is Just Paying Rent

 

On Thursday, the Miami Heat clinched their second NBA title, in back-to-back fashion, by defeating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. With three straight NBA Finals visits and beating all comers (including a 27-game winning streak during the 2012-2013 season), the Heat continue to prove that the NBA world is theirs and everyone else is merely paying rent.

The Heat played several types of basketball in the playoffs in order to secure their most recent title. They were also able to avoid the New York Knicks, who were the only legitimate threat to thwart their goal of repeating as NBA Champions. In the 1st Round of the playoffs, the Heat knew they were up against an inferior opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks and coasted during the first half of each game, before turning on the after-burners in the second halves of all four games, for a clean sweep.

In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Miami faced the Chicago Bulls. The road initially began a bit bumpier, because the Bulls won Game 1 with their bruising style of defense, coupled with the penchant for slowing down the game and grinding out possessions on both ends. Despite the very hard fought, 1990s style of play from Game 1 onward, the Heat were able to go get past the Bulls in four straight low-scoring games to win the series in five games.

During the Eastern Conference Finals, the Indiana Pacers presented a healthier version of the Bulls – who had been missing two of their key players in Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich – while the Pacers had managed to arrive in the Eastern Conference Finals despite missing their leading scorer Danny Granger all season. The Pacers were able to successfully play the bruising defense that the Bulls played, while also getting more offensive contributions from players such as third year budding star Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert, who completely dominated the Heat on the interior on both ends. In the end, the Pacers’ lack of consistent offensive ability did them in, as the Heat were far superior offensively, blowing the doors off the Pacers in the deciding seventh game to advance to the NBA Finals.

In the Finals, the Heat faced the San Antonio Spurs, who had the ability to run and gun (which is the Spurs’ preference) like the Bucks, play bruising interior defense like the Bulls and Pacers, while also being deeper than both of those teams in the process. It was the Heat’s stiffest opposition all playoffs long, and despite two blowout losses to the Spurs (while managing two of their own), the Heat proved to be resilient when the possessions ground to a halt in each Games 6 and 7. The Spurs are a steely bunch who are not much moved whether they have previously won by 17 or lost by 19. The 2013 Finals were a great exhibition of this demeanor.

Game 1 featured the Spurs doing what they do best, outsmart their opponents on both ends, adjusting on the fly and taking away the first and second options of their opposition, as they stunned the Heat, 92-88. Miami, ever resilient themselves, came out and did the two things that they had done all season: avoided losing back to back games since early in the calendar year of 2013, and winning in blowout fashion. When the Heat are clicking, they turn over their opposition with regularity and score tons of easy baskets at the other end. When the frenetic pace hits its apex, the Heat are able to operate efficiently, while they choke off the abilities of their opponents, who become disoriented and lose their way. Miami did just that in Game 2, by pulling off a 103-84 win by a 19-point margin (which had been their modus operandi in reaction to a loss all season long).

Game 3 was in San Antonio, and the Spurs appeared to be energized and happy to be playing in front of their home crowd. The Heat simply appeared to be nonplussed about being there at all, with a listless and uninspired effort, en route to a 113-77 loss, that saw the Spurs leading by 40 points at one juncture. Miami was in a 2-1 hole, and had continued a trend that began during the Eastern Conference Finals by not winning back to back games since knocking off the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Game 4 immediately swung momentum back in Miami’s favor, as the Heat retaliated with another blowout win of their own – 109-93 – seemingly unfazed by the 36-point Game 3 loss. The Spurs responded with a 114-104 win to close out their home season at the AT&T Center, led by an inspired effort by Spurs’ F Manu Ginobili, in what could have been his last game at the arena. The game was not as close as the final score indicated, as the Spurs withstood a late flurry by the Heat to hold on and win by 10. This sent the teams back to the American Airlines Arena on Biscayne Bay in Miami for scintillating basketball in Game 6.

Game 6 did not disappoint. The teams jostled and jockeyed back and forth all game. Spurs’ F Kawhi Leonard, who confounded the Heat all series, came up with a 22-point, 11-rebound, 3-steal effort, while doubling as the primary defender on the Heat’s F LeBron James – no small task. Leonard could have capped off such a stellar game by making two game-sealing free throws in the late moments, with the Spurs up two with 20 seconds remaining. However, he missed the front end of a two-shot foul, and set up a frantic rush on the other end by the Heat. James initially missed a 3-point field goal, then there was a mad scramble for the ball by F Chris Bosh, leading to a clutch 3-point basket by the venerable Ray Allen, which led to overtime, in which the Miami Heat pulled ahead just enough to win by a 103-100 margin.

Lost in the fray of the Game 6 ending was a throwback 30-point, 17-rebound effort by all-world forward Tim Duncan of the Spurs. The game featured so many extremes with every pivotal player involved. Despite Leonard’s stellar game, his missed free throw went from ensuring a Spurs win to enabling Miami to tie the game and send it into overtime. LeBron James had two critical turnovers and an awfully off-target 3-point shot just before Allen’s game-tying 3-point shot. Spurs’ G Tony Parker, who contested both of those shots (on opposite sides of the court within four seconds of the other), had made two extremely difficult shots down the stretch of regulation, but had shot 4-for-21 otherwise, in a game that the Spurs would eventually kick themselves for not winning in regulation. Ginobili, the hero of Game 5, had several critical turnovers (and eight for the game) down the stretch of regulation and overtime, which sealed the Spurs’ fate in a furious comeback late in overtime of Game 6. Even legendary coach Gregg Popovich had gaffes of his own, taking Parker and Duncan out at critical junctures when Miami was able to score offensively and secure defensive rebounds without Duncan on the floor.

Game 7, by comparison, was as anticlimactic as a series-ending game could be. Although the finality of the series was palpable, the two teams were clearly spent following the Game 6 efforts by both. The offensive flow in Game 7 was sloppy, and the scoring was down. Both teams ran out to leads, before Miami wrested control late in the game. The Spurs made a final comeback attempt that fell short, and Miami prevailed, while hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy afterward.

This series will be remembered for what the Spurs failed to do, and what the Heat have ultimately accomplished in the past three years. The Heat have proven their doubters wrong and continue to show that they are more than a conglomeration of talent, but a team that knows how to win, with everyone owning defined roles. The Spurs, however, are left to wonder, “What if?” as the Heat continue to cement their individual and franchise legacies.

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