The league’s most elite talent, and a popular villain once denigrated for his inability to win when it mattered most, quieted critics once again as he scored 37 points in leading the Miami Heat to back-to-back titles with a 95-88 Game 7 victory against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.
The Heat’s domination of the regular season included a 27-game win streak and the league’s best record, and it also included James’ fourth Most Valuable Player award.
He now adds his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP.
James remains on the NBA’s mountaintop, undoubtedly the king of the league despite the criticism and pressure that comes with being an active legend in a game overly analyzed in a way Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson never knew.
“Listen, for me I can’t worry about what everybody says about me,” James said from the podium during the trophy presentation. “I’m LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio, from the inner-city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough.
“Every night I walk into the locker room I see a No. 6 with James on the back. I’m blessed. So what everyone says about me off the court, doesn’t matter. I don’t have any worries.”
There was a bitterness to his words, no doubt. The great ones always find chips on their shoulder, and James doesn’t have to look far to discover his motivation.
Erratic performances and a seeming lack of urgency earlier in the series provoked deserved scrutiny. With cries for James to be legendary, he had moments of being simply mortal. The basketball world expected more, and James ultimately answered.
James responded through his play once again, showcasing his all-world versatility. He found his shooting stroke, hitting mid-range jumpers down the stretch. He was 52 percent from the field (12-of-23) and hit 5-of-10 from three-point range. He was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line. He added 12 rebounds and four assists.
He got it done in the first half; he got it done late in the game.
With heavy pressure on a jump shot that had been nervously inconsistent in the finals, James came through late in the fourth quarter. He showed the killer instinct.
With 5:39 remaining and Heat holding an 81-77 lead, a Manu Ginobili turnover resulted in a James’ 17-foot baseline pull-up to extend the lead to six points. After a pair of Tim Duncan free throws once again closed the game to just four points, James immediately responded with another 17-foot jump shot to push the Heat back to an 85-79 advantage.
With under four minutes to play, James missed back-to-back shots and the Heat’s lead shrunk to 90-88. Duncan, with a chance to tie the game with 48 seconds remaining, missed a point-blank hook shot. When the Spurs’ future Hall of Famer missed, James grabbed the torch.
With 27.9 seconds remaining, in a monumental moment made to create legacies, James calmly knocked down a clutch 19-foot jumper that extended the Heat’s lead to 92-88. He later knocked down two free throws with 23 seconds left to put the game further out of reach.
So much for shrinking in the moment.
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The narrative has fully been reversed. No one can take away James’ two titles, and no one will forget his 32-point triple-double in Game 6 or his 37 points in Game 7.
Of course he had help along the way; James needed Ray Allen’s clutch three-pointer in Game 6 in the same way Michael Jordan needed John Paxson in Game 6 of the finals 20 years ago. When history is retold, the only memory will be James’ legendary performance in winning his second title.
No critic will be able to deny it.